New Orleans Picks First White Mayor In 32 Years

Saturday, voters in New Orleans chose Louisiana's lieutenant governor to replace Mayor Ray Nagin. Mitch Landrieu won the mayoral election after putting together a strong coalition of support, promising to put racial disputes aside and jump start the city's recovery from Hurricane Katrina. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

As the New Orleans Saints make history with their first Super Bowl appearance today, New Orleans voters made a little history of their own in yesterday's mayoral election. The majority-black city will have its first white mayor in 32 years.

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu won with a commanding 66 percent of the vote.

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ELLIOTT: His supporters were jubilant as the Treme brass band marched through the Roosevelt Hotel ballroom in advance of Landrieu's victory speech.

Mayor MITCH LANDRIEU (New Orleans): The people of the city of New Orleans did a very extraordinary thing today. We decided that we were going to stick the pole in the ground and strike a blow for unity, strike a blow for a city that decided to be unified rather than divided. A city...

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ELLIOTT: He'll be New Orleans' first white mayor since his father, Moon Landrieu, held the office in the 1970s and opened up government to African-Americans. Ever since, black candidates have held what came to be known as the franchise because of the mayor's power.

This was Mitch Landrieu's third bid for the job. He lost four years ago to Ray Nagin. But since, voters have grown increasingly frustrated with the pace of the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Landrieu promises to turn things around.

Mayor LANDRIEU: We're all going together, and we're not leaving anybody behind.

ELLIOTT: The second-place finisher in the race was businessman Troy Henry, an African-American who complained during the campaign that black candidates were being marginalized. But he told supporters last night it was time to rally behind the new mayor.

Mr. TROY HENRY (Mayoral Candidate, New Orleans): Mitch is going to be a fantastic mayor. I have told him that I will support him in any way that he needs for me to support him because it's all up to us to make New Orleans a great city. And I want to make sure that I do my part to make sure that Mitch is as successful as he can because as he goes and the city goes, so we all go. So let's wish Mitch - a whole, big, round of applause.

ELLIOTT: Landrieu drew support from a broad coalition of voters. After voting at Lafayette Middle School, 24-year-old Amber McKnight(ph) talked about how she likes Mitch Landrieu's sister, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, and trusts the family.

Ms. AMBER MCKNIGHT: So I know they're good people, and I know they'll do the right thing for the community as it relates to, well, African-Americans. So, I'll go ahead on and say that, so...

ELLIOTT: I take it when you say: I'll go ahead and say that, it's because that's been a bit of a controversy this time.

Ms. MCKNIGHT: Yeah. It is a controversy because people - it's like a taboo.

ELLIOTT: She doesn't buy the argument that the majority-black city needs an African-American mayor.

Ms. MCKNIGHT: Even though they may look like me, per se, doesn't mean they're going do the right thing for me. I'm just looking for somebody who's going to do the right thing, basically.

ELLIOTT: Back at his victory celebration, Landrieu called on New Orleanians to work with him.

Mr. LANDRIEU: One team, one fight, one voice, one city - that's who we are.

ELLIOTT: He promised to get working right away, but first...

Mr. LANDRIEU: Right now, what we're going to do is get ready for the Saints to take it all the way and to bring the Super Bowl home for us. God bless you and good night. Thank you.

ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News, New Orleans.

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