Weather-beaten Nagin clings on to job as mayor of New Orleans

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The Independent US

Ray Nagin, New Orleans' outspoken mayor, was narrowly re-elected to a second four-year term after a campaign waged in the shadow of Hurricane Katrina in which he and his rivals fought over the slow pace of recovery from the storm and struggled to envision the future of the city.

It was an election in which the realities of the campaign issues were reflected in the voters' everyday experience: neighbourhoods bereft of their residents and filled with abandoned buildings, waterlogged cars sitting by the sides of roads, litter and waste left uncollected.

Mr Nagin was pummelled by his rivals for what they called his incompetence and his excessive willingness to pin the blame for his own shortcomings on state and federal officials. In the end, though, the incumbent proved just adept enough at reviving his diverse political base - predominantly poor African Americans, along with white business owners and middle-of-the-road voters attracted by his independence from Louisiana's entrenched political machines - to squeak home.

In the final run-off, held on Saturday, Mr Nagin won 52 per cent of the vote, compared with 48 per cent for his strongest challenger, Louisiana's lieutenant governor, Mitch Landrieu. Both are Democrats, with similar basic ideologies. There, however, the similarities ceased, at least for the duration of campaign.

Mr Nagin became closely identified with his fellow African Americans, whose allegiance he largely held, while Mr Landrieu, the son of a former New Orleans mayor and a member of a prominent Louisiana political dynasty, was seen as the vanguard of an attempted white "takeover" of the city, in which business interests would trump the creation of housing and jobs for the hundreds of thousands of African Americans forced to flee their homes after Katrina.

The primary election, which was held last month, threatened to turn the campaign into the stuff of racial and political dynamite, as Mr Nagin faced more than 20 challengers. In the run-off, however, the two surviving candidates focused on coalition-building and appealing to each other's core constituencies. They ended up sounding remarkably cordial, acknowledging that working together to rebuild New Orleans was more important than anything.

"This election is over, and it's time for this community to start the healing process," Mr Nagin said in his victory speech. "It's time for us to stop the bickering. It's time for us to stop measuring things in black and white and yellow and Asian. It's time for us to be one New Orleans."

He even took time to thank President Bush and other politicians he has criticised for letting his city down in its hour of need. He said the White House was making good on its promise to help in the rebuilding, and suggested he and the president were "probably the most vilified politicians in the country".

In the wake of criticisms from all sides - that he failed to organise a proper evacuation before the storm, that he was more interested in grandstanding than building alliances with key state and federal agencies, that his city managers were unqualified to deliver on basic logistical promises - the mayor said he would shake up his staff.

The election itself was almost overwhelmed by the logistical challenges posed by Katrina, and the extensive flooding that followed. The schedule originally called for the newly elected mayor to take office on 1 May, but it had to be postponed as officials grappled with questions about absentee balloting and considered setting up polling stations in other states where residents have been forced to stay.

In the end, out-of-state voting was disallowed, and candidates decided against travelling to other cities to campaign. Displaced residents either voted in other locations in Louisiana, or else sent in absentee ballots.

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