New Orleans picks a mayor this Saturday

Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin

TEXT OF STORY

SCOTT JAGOW: In New Orleans, folks go to the polls tomorrow to choose their next mayor. It'll be either incumbent Ray Nagin or challenger Mitch Landrieu. He's Louisiana's lieutenant governor. The winner will have his work cut out for him. Since Katrina, New Orleans has lost some 60 percent of its population. Sam Eaton reports from what many residents call a broken city.

[ Sound of mayoral debate ]

Close your eyes and listen to any of the recent New Orleans mayoral debates and sometimes it sounds like the two candidates have more to agree on than to actually debate.

RAY NAGIN: We're going to deploy every technique known to man and to woman to make sure that this city stays safe.

MITCH LANDRIEU: The first principle I think that we have to agree on as a community is that the city has got to be safe.

Incumbent mayor Ray Nagin, who is black, and his opponent, Mitch Landrieu, who is white, are Democrats. Each claims he is the best man to bridge the racial divide that has come to define this election. Each claims he's best positioned to jumpstart the rebuilding process. Not exactly the fuel for a heated exchange. Brian Brox is a political science professor at Tulane University.

BRIAN BROX: It's not the difference between Bush and Kerry. It's not the difference between Barry Goldwater and Lyndon Johnson. We do not have a massive ideological or issue divide here.

Brox says this leaves most voters choosing their candidates on the basis of style over substance. Something along the lines of a gut feeling. That's what's driving Rev. Frank Davis of Bible Way Missionary Baptist Church to endorse incumbent Ray Nagin.

FRANK DAVIS: If I were going to war a soldier, I'd want a sergeant going before me with war experience in the field of battle where I'm going.

Nagin's critics say he's a business-oriented outsider. Landrieu's detractors call him a political careerist. Whatever they are, rebuilding New Orleans will be a mammoth task. LSU economist Jim Richardson:

JIM RICHARDSON: You have to get the housing back on track, you have to decide on the neighborhoods that will come back. Have to get the utilities back up and running well. You have to worry about how you relate to the state government, how you relate to the federal government. Those are the problems. They'll be there. It doesn't matter if it's Nagin or if it's Landrieu.

Richardson says each of the candidates would bring their own personalities and priorities to the job. But he says ultimately the mayor alone won't determine the success or failure of New Orleans.

RICHARDSON: He can do all he wants. If individuals say I'm not coming back, if individuals say I'm moving my business to St. Taminy Parish. Or I'm moving my business to Baton Rouge or Houston, Texas, there's nothing he can do about it.

Walking in the French Quarter the other night I saw someone wearing a customized T-shirt that said "vote for . . . future." The word future was scrawled in bright red letters. Underneath it the name of the mayoral candidate had been crossed out.

In New Orleans, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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