New Orleans Readies for Mayoral Run-Off

Two candidates are left in the high-profile race to lead a post-Katrina New Orleans. Voters will choose Saturday between Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu. Steve Inskeep previews the run-off vote with Silas Lee, a pollster in New Orleans.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Tomorrow, New Orleans residents choose a mayor to preside over their reconstruction. It's a run-off election, coming after the first round narrowed it to two candidates.

Ray Nagin is the incumbent, known to millions from the days after the storm. He's facing off against Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, part of a great Louisiana political family.

One person following this race is Silas Lee. He was a pollster in New Orleans. Welcome to the program.

Dr. SILAS LEE (Political Pollster; Social Justice Analyst): Thank you.

INSKEEP: Is this a referendum on how the mayor did after the storm?

Dr. LEE: Well, I just think, yes it is, simply because of the fact that Katrina changed the dynamics of the electorate, as well as the priorities of the electorate.

INSKEEP: There's also a question about who's voting, right?

Dr. LEE: Yes, in terms of what percentage will African-Americans and whites vote; and what's unusual here is that, you know, the African-American mayor competing for African-American votes.

INSKEEP: I'm sorry - unusual that a black mayor would compete for black votes?

Dr. LEE: Well, usually, it's somewhat of a given that African-American candidates receive a significant majority of the African-American vote. The question in this race becomes, by what percentage will Ray Nagin, who is an African-American, get what percentage of the African-American vote...

INSKEEP: Because some might be attracted to Mitch Landrieu, the white candidate here?

Dr. LEE: Yes, because Mitch Landrieu comes from a very prominent political family and his father, Moon Landrieu, is credited with integrating the workforce at city hall. So they have historically been strongly supported by African-Americans.

INSKEEP: Mr. Lee, given all the problems facing New Orleans, I have to ask if it matters who wins this particular mayor's race.

Dr. LEE: It depends on who you talk to, because you have two competing realities, in terms of maintaining a symbolic presence in the mayor's office versus the restoration of the city, and for some whites, the question of who will best present the image of the city. Because, keep in mind, Mayor Nagin has been somewhat handicapped, especially in the white community, by his chocolate city comments.

INSKEEP: Do you think that blacks and whites, to some degree, will be voting on racial questions then?

Dr. LEE: The reality is that race will be a context. And race is a context with so many issues in society, so we shouldn't necessarily be thoroughly distracted by that.

INSKEEP: Dr. Lee, thanks very much.

Dr. LEE: Sure, you're welcome.

INSKEEP: Silas Lee is a pollster in New Orleans. We know that New Orleans voters are scattered across the country, but there is still a chance to vote by absentee ballot; and if you want to find more information about how to do that, got to our website: npr.org.

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How to Vote in the New Orleans Mayoral Run-Off

The race for New Orleans mayor will be decided Saturday. Voters displaced by Hurricane Katrina will be able to cast absentee ballots until the polls close.

Last-Minute Absentee Voting

You must have requested a ballot by 4:30 p.m. CT Friday, May 19, and obtained a displaced-voter affidavit from the Louisiana Secretary of State's Web site.

You can FAX the ballot to the Orleans Parish registrar's office at 1-504-658-8315. Deadline is 8 p.m. CT Saturday, May 20.

More than 22,000 people voted early or by absentee ballot for New Orleans mayor in April. Louisiana officials say they've already reached that level in this run-off race between incumbent Ray Nagin and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu.

New Orleanians who evacuated to places like Texas and Mississippi and voted absentee during the first phase of the election last month automatically received a ballot for this round. Anyone else who still wants to vote absentee must request a ballot by 4:30 p.m. CT Friday and get a displaced-voter affidavit from the Louisiana Secretary of State's Web site.

The ballots are due back to the Orleans Parish registrar's office — by fax (1-504-658-8315) or mail (Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters, 1300 Perdido St., Room 1W23, New Orleans, LA 70112) — by the time the polls close at 8 p.m. CT Saturday. Additional information is available at the state's election hot line (1-800-883-2805).

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