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LIANE HANSEN, host:

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has been reelected. Yesterday he defeated Louisiana Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu in a runoff race.

With this victory, Nagin continues the city's nearly 30-year legacy of African-American leadership. But many black residents who lost their homes because of Hurricane Katrina remain scattered in other states.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY reporting:

Mayor Nagin overcame criticism over how he's handled the city's recovery effort since Hurricane Katrina and won the race against Mitch Landrieu by four percentage points.

In his victory speech, he thanked God and quoted Gandhi.

Mayor RAY NAGIN (New Orleans): Gandhi said it best. He said, first they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. And then you win.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Mayor NAGIN: God bless you!

CORLEY: There were racial undertones throughout the race, since Hurricane Katrina damaged many of New Orleans' predominantly black neighborhoods and changed the city's demographics. Less than half of the city's pre-Katrina population has returned, and many black residents live outside New Orleans' boundaries.

Nagin is African-American, and Landrieu, who is white, would have become the first non-black to hold the office since his own father left the city's top spot in 1978. The vote was split along racial lines, but the mayor was able to gather enough crossover support from voters in white areas to win. And he said it's time now for the city to come together.

Mayor NAGIN: It's time for us to stop the bickering. It's time for us to stop measuring things in black and white and yellow and Asian. It's time for us to be one New Orleans.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

CORLEY: Throughout the campaign, both Nagin and Landrieu offered similar ideas as they discussed how to revive New Orleans, and just as the mayor called for unity, Landrieu did as well when he conceded the election.

Lt. Governor MITCH LANDRIEU (New Orleans): From generation to generation, we have never risen above our differences and come together. But tonight, let us pledge that we will begin. We will speak with one voice. We will get behind the mayor. We will do everything we can to bring this great city back again. God bless you, thank you all, and today is the first step towards tomorrow. Goodnight and thank you. Mr. Mayor, congratulations!

(Soundbite of applause)

CORLEY: Turnout for this election was nearly the same as in last month's primary, at 37 percent. Many Hurricane Katrina evacuees cast ballots early, either in person at satellite locations around the state, or by absentee ballot.

Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater says the city registrar indicated a number of absentee ballots were not counted because they didn't meet required standards.

Mr. AL ATER (Secretary of State, Louisiana): It's always an unfortunate situation that people don't sign their ballots or they don't have them witnessed or whatever, for whatever legitimate reason that the parish board said that they would not be able to count those ballots. It's very unfortunate. Laws have to be followed, and when they're not, unfortunately there's consequences for that.

CORLEY: Letters are sent to people whose absentee ballot was not counted and they have a period of time to contest the decision.

Ms. PAMELA MAHOGANY(ph) (New Orleans Activist): You're here to what?

CROWD: Vote!

Ms. MAHOGANY: Vote! You have a voice?

CROWD: Yes!

Ms. MAHOGANY: You want to be heard?

CROWD: Yes!

CORLEY: Hundreds of other displaced voters, wearing T-shirts that read, we're back, came in busloads to vote in person. Pamela Mahogany, who had been living in Mississippi, joined their Election Day rally, saying it was important for them all to return.

Ms. MAHOGANY: We have a right to return. This was our home before the hurricane and this is our home. This will always be our home. And we have a right to live here. And that's why this election is real important, because we need to make a stand, you know. We need to make people understand that we do count.

CORLEY: Mayor Nagin and Mitch Landrieu met with the group during their rally, and during his victory speech Mayor Nagin recognized them again.

Mayor NAGIN: We have citizens around the country who want to come back to the city of New Orleans, and we're going to get them all back to the city of New Orleans.

CORLEY: Mayor Nagin says he'll get back to work immediately to take that step, as well as to speed up other recovery efforts that he admitted slowed down as he worked to recapture his seat.

His new term begins on May 31st, just a day before the start of the hurricane season.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, New Orleans.

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