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Many cities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast are holding their first municipal elections tomorrow, since Hurricane Katrina, and nearly half the mayors are not seeking re-election. One of the main reasons is hurricane fatigue. NPR's Debbie Elliott checked in with two of the outgoing mayors.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Xavier Bishop moved to Moss Point, Mississippi, from Chicago in 2001 - lured by the sleepy southern lifestyle where the Pascagoula and Escatawpa rivers meet. City Hall is right on the waterfront and that's where Bishop — just six weeks into his first term as mayor — was baptized by the rising waters of Hurricane Katrina.
Mayor XAVIER BISHOP (Moss Point, Mississippi): I could look out my window and see the water making its way into city hall and once it began to seep though the door, I abandoned City Hall for the police station.
ELLIOTT: And the water followed. Downtown was inundated, and nearly half of the homes in Moss Point were damaged. Ever since, Bishop has been consumed with rebuilding the city — an overwhelming task for leaders in this town of 16,000.
Mayor BISHOP: We did not have in place the expertise to address the challenge that was before us. Rebuild your city, we were encouraged. Do it bigger and better than it was before, we were told. And we were all for it until we sat down and realized — Where do you start?
ELLIOTT: Mayor Bishop works from a white trailer next to the damaged City Hall, which will soon be torn down.
Bishop says it took two years and navigating a litany of red tape to get federal and state funds to help the city regroup. And citizens have grown frustrated with the slow progress. It's come with a price for Bishop.
Mayor BISHOP: Fatigue. I am worn out. I'm battle worn, I'm battle scarred.
ELLIOTT: Bishop is one of five Mississippi Gulf Coast mayors who are not seeking re-election. One of them is embroiled in a Katrina fraud scandal, but the rest say they can't muster another four years of dealing with the storm's aftermath. That means a new crop of leaders will have to come up to speed fast.
Of those calling it quits, perhaps the biggest surprise came in Bay St. Louis, where Mayor Eddie Favre is retiring after 20 years.
Mayor EDWARD FAVRE (Bay St. Louis): It was a tough decision but I thought about it and thought about and I just couldn't find the spark. And I've always said if I didn't have all to give, I didn't belong. And this last four years has just really taken its toll.
ELLIOTT: Favre is a soft-spoken, animated character with a stout build and a quick laugh. Now 55, he was raised in this bayside town of 8,000 near the Louisiana border.
Mayor FAVRE: It's still home and it always will be. When we get far enough away where we can't smell the salt air and hear the mullet jumping, it's too far from home. Too far from home.
ELLIOTT: The mayor is driving along the once washed-out beach road, where workers are trying to rebuild the city's infrastructure.
Mayor FAVRE: This is the area that's completely replacing all of the utility lines, and you know, also including the new sidewalks and roadwork. And hopefully putting everything back the way it was pre-Katrina.
ELLIOTT: Favre admits the city wasn't prepared for the devastation that Hurricane Katrina brought. They had not set up shelters and didn't think many parts of town were threatened because they had survived the deadly Hurricane Camille in 1969. They were wrong. Katrina's 30-foot storm surge practically wiped the town out. And for Favre, there was a personal toll as well.
Mayor FAVRE: I came out of it with a pair of shorts, a pair of flip flops, and a T-shirt. That's all I had left to my name.
ELLIOTT: Those shorts have come to have significance here.
Mayor FAVRE: Shortly after the storm hit, we had a meeting and the president came down, so I go to it - flip flops, shorts, and a T-shirt. You know, and everybody said, what are you doing? It's like, well, guys it's no offense. That's all I have. I don't own a pair of long pants. This is it, period. And it came to signify that until the city was put back together, until it was made whole again, that I'd wear the shorts. And when you start dressing up, it kind of signifies that everything is okay. Everything's not okay.
ELLIOTT: The next mayor of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi will have some short pants to fill.
Debbie Elliott, NPR News.
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