NEW ORLEANS — Frustrated by term-limited Mayor Ray Nagin’s leadership of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, voters elected Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu to succeed him Saturday, turning to a political scion to speed up the city’s recovery.
Landrieu, 49, became the majority-black city’s first white mayor since 1979, the year his father Moon left the office. The mayor-elect, a moderate Democrat, won in a landslide over a field of 10 opponents in a campaign that concluded as Carnival celebrations and preparations for the New Orleans Saints’ appearance in the Super Bowl took place.
Landrieu’s victory party was a nod to both: the ballroom of a the Roosevelt hotel — recently reopened after a post-Katrina restoration — was festooned with Saints-themed black and gold balloons. A roving brass band played Mardi Gras tunes and he prefaced his victory speech by leading the crowd in the Saints’ “Who Dat” cheer.
“We’re all going together and we’re not leaving anybody behind,” he shouted to a jubilant crowd as family members, including his father and his sister, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, stood beside him.
With all of the precincts reporting, Landrieu had 66 percent of the vote.
The campaign also focused on the city’s violent crime and slumping finances. Landrieu, who lost to Nagin in a runoff four years ago, was a welcome change for some voters who grew frustrated with the city’s current mayor. Little known outside New Orleans before Katrina, Nagin became a central, and sometimes controversial figure, in the city’s struggle to recover. Though he won re-election as he courted black voters in the 2006 campaign, Nagin notoriously pledged after the hurricane that New Orleans would be a “chocolate city” again, offending many whites.
Polls showed his popularity fell sharply in the years after the storm.
“I certainly don’t want another Ray Nagin — a businessman,” said Charlotte Ford, a 76-year-old semi-retiree and registered Republican who voted for Landrieu. “They balk instead of finding out what works, how the system works.”
Ursula Murphy and her husband, Bill, voted early so they could avoid traffic caused by the parades. Both cast votes for Landrieu. “After eight years of negative, we’re going to see some positive,” Bill Murphy said.