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Staying the course, New Orleans reelects Nagin

Mayor calls for unity

NEW ORLEANS -- Mayor C. Ray Nagin, whose shoot-from-the-hip style was both praised and scorned after Hurricane Katrina, narrowly won reelection over Lieutenant Governor Mitchell J. Landrieu yesterday in the race to oversee one of the biggest rebuilding projects in US history.

''I greet you all in the spirit of unity because if we are unified there is nothing we cannot do," Nagin said in a joyful victory speech that took on the tone of a Sunday sermon.

''We are ready to take off. We have citizens around the country who want to come back to the city of New Orleans, and we're going to get them all back," he said. ''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."

With all 442 precincts reporting, Nagin had 52.3 percent, or 59,460 votes, to Landrieu's 47.7 percent, or 54,131 votes.

Nagin, a former cable television executive first elected to public office in 2002, argued the city could ill afford to change course just as rebuilding gathered steam. His second term begins a day before the June 1 start of the next hurricane season in a city where streets are still strewn with rusting, mud-covered cars and entire neighborhoods consist of homes that are empty shells.

With little disagreement on the major issues -- the right of residents to rebuild in all areas and the urgent need for federal aid for recovery and top-notch levees -- the race came down to a referendum on leadership styles.

Nagin, a janitor's son from a black, working-class neighborhood, is known for his improvisational, some say impulsive, rhetoric. After Katrina plunged his city into chaos, Nagin made a tearful plea for the federal government to ''get off their (behinds) and do something" and his now-famous remark that God intended New Orleans to be a ''chocolate" city.

In his victory speech, he reached out to his former adversaries, thanking President Bush for keeping his commitment to rebuild New Orleans and Governor Kathleen Blanco for "what she is getting ready to do."

Landrieu, who served 16 years in the Louisiana House before being elected lieutenant governor two years ago, had touted his ability to bring people together and get things done.

The scion of a political dynasty known as Louisiana's version of the Kennedys, he's the brother of US Senator Mary L. Landrieu and had hoped to be the first white mayor in a generation, since his father, Moon Landrieu, left office in 1978.

Landrieu echoed the theme of his campaign -- a call for unity -- as he conceded. ''One thing is for sure -- that we as a people have got to come together so we can speak with one voice and one purpose," he said. ''Join with me in supporting Mayor Nagin."

Fewer than half of New Orleans' 455,000 pre-Katrina residents are living in the city, and many blacks scattered by the storm have yet to return.

Evacuees arrived by bus from as far as Atlanta and Houston to vote. More than 25,000 ballots were cast early by mail or fax or at satellite polling places set up around Louisiana earlier in the month -- 5,000 more than were cast early in last month's primary.

Nagin, who had widespread support from white voters four years ago, lost much of that support in the primary but had predicted a stronger showing this time.

Results from Louisiana's Secretary of State's Office showed that he got it. Absentee and early votes went slightly for Nagin. And while the results showed Nagin carrying majority black precincts and Landrieu winning in majority white ones, Nagin pulled a significant crossover vote in some predominantly white precincts.

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