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10:35 am
Wed December 23, 2009

NOLA Mayoral Hopefuls: We're Not Ray Nagin

Candidates in New Orleans are lining up to replace current Mayor Ray Nagin. By law, the two-term mayor can't run again. But his legacy is affecting the current race: His troubled tenure has hopefuls promising big changes in the Big Easy.

Nagin's second term as mayor has been dominated by escalating crime, a federal probe of the police department, corruption scandals at city hall, and general dissatisfaction with a slow and uneven recovery.

Xavier University sociologist Silas Lee says Nagin faced high expectations after Hurricane Katrina, and he hasn't delivered.

"It's not a legacy that any urban mayor would want," Lee says.

Now, he says, the pressure will be on the next mayor to finish the job.

"It's a thankless job," Lee says. "People want a superman or a superwoman or a Houdini, and that person doesn't exist."

But plenty of people think they can bring New Orleans back. Thirteen candidates qualified last week for the February primary, an open contest where independents, Republicans and Democrats all face off on the same ballot.

One candidate has since dropped out, but the biggest shakeup came last week when Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu announced that he would run for a third time.

He is the brother of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and their father was the major of New Orleans in the 1970s. Mitch Landrieu lost to Nagin in the last election and for months had indicated that he was not going to run again. He makes no apologies for his late entry.

"This is a competition," he says. "This is not Burger King. It's not first come, first serve."

'Some Kind Of A New Thinking'

On Tuesday night, voters packed an auditorium at Xavier University to get their first look at the candidates.

Attorney Joseph Bruno and the Rev. Aubrey Wallace had front-row seats for what they said was the most important election of their lives.

"It's nothing more than the survival of our city," Bruno says. "We really desperately need some kind of a new thinking — probably a genius mayor who can come up with a way to revitalize this place, 'cause it's sinking fast."

Wallace says race and political affiliation matter little to him.

"If you're drowning and someone throws a life rope out to you, you don't look up [to] see who it is pulling you out of a hole," he says.

But historically, the city has voted along racial lines. State Sen. Ed Murray, another candidate in the mayoral race, says race is a factor now more than ever.

"After Katrina, people felt like they were being told, 'You can't go back to your homes, you can't go back to your neighborhood, it really doesn't need to exist,' " Murray says. "And people really had to fight to get their homes and neighborhoods back. So people have a real spirit now to make sure that nobody turns the clock back on them."

Fighting crime and blight were the main topics at the debate.

Former civil district judge Nadine Ramsey said citizens deserve more than they've been getting from officials in the past.

"For so long we have listened to politicians telling us about what they have done for our city," Ramsey says. "Our question must be quite simple: If so much has been done, why is our city in the condition it's in?"

Candidate John Georges, a wealthy businessman, says it comes down to leadership. Just like the undefeated New Orleans Saints with head coach Sean Payton at the helm, the city needs a strong leader to turn it around.

"When you bring in a leader like Sean Payton, who is an optimist, [a] winner with a plan, he can hire the right team of experts," Georges says. "It's that simple in business, it's that simple in football. I've been a winner my whole life. I know how to pick the winners; I know how to put a plan together."

And some fans here will tell you, with the Saints 13-0 and aiming for the Super Bowl, anything is possible — even restoring faith in city hall.

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, became nationally famous at the time of Hurricane Katrina. Now there's a free-for-all to replace him. By law, Nagin can't run again. But that doesn't mean he's not a factor in this race.

As NPR's Debbie Elliott reports, the many candidates are promising big changes in the Big Easy.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: The crowded field for New Orleans mayor has candidates looking for ways to stand out, like this provocative ad from housing advocate James Perry.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Unidentified Woman #1: Political insiders and career politicians.

Unidentified Woman #2: What? Are you (beep) with me?

Unidentified Woman #1: Lining up to be our next mayor.

Unidentified Man #1: Are you (beep) kidding me?

Unidentified Man #2: What the (beep)?

Unidentified Woman #1: They won't change anything.

ELLIOTT: The ad is a swipe at his competition and at a city hall that has been plagued with controversy since Hurricane Katrina. Taking on city government is a theme in this race.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Ms. LESLIE JACOBS (Mayoral Candidate, New Orleans): It's inexcusable New Orleans is the murder capital of America. I'm Leslie Jacobs and as mayor, I'll have a laser-like focus on stopping crime and making government honest and accountable.

ELLIOTT: Ray Nagin's second term as mayor has been dominated by escalating crime, a federal probe of the police department, corruption scandals at city hall and general dissatisfaction with a slow and uneven recovery.

Professor SILAS LEE (Sociologist, Xavier University): It's not a legacy that any urban mayor would want.

ELLIOTT: Xavier University sociologist Silas Lee says Nagin faced high expectations post-Katrina, and hasn't delivered. Now, he says, the pressure will be on the next mayor to finish the job.

Prof. LEE: It's a thankless job. People want a superman or a superwoman and a Houdini, and that person doesn't exist.

ELLIOTT: But plenty of people think they can bring New Orleans back. In all, 13 candidates qualified last week for the February 6th primary, an open contest where Independents, Republicans and Democrats all face off on the same ballot. One just dropped out, but the biggest surprise came last week when Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu announced he would run for a third time.

Lieutenant Governor MITCH LANDRIEU (Louisiana): I will do everything I can to make sure that I bring the people of this city together to heal the racial divide that has kept us apart for so long.

ELLIOTT: Landrieu is Senator Mary Landrieu's brother, and their father was mayor here in the 1970s. Mitch Landrieu lost to Nagin in the last election and for months had indicated he was not going to run again. He makes no apologies for his late entry.

Lt. Gov. LANDRIEU: This is a competition. It's not Burger King. It's not first come, first served.

ELLIOTT: The voters packed an auditorium at Xavier University Tuesday night to get their first look at the candidates.

(Soundbite of crowd)

Unidentified Woman #3: Anybody want to ask a question?

ELLIOTT: Attorney Joseph Bruno and the Reverend Aubrey Wallace had front row seats for what they called the most important election of their lives.

Mr. JOSEPH BRUNO (Attorney): It's nothing more than the survival of our city. I mean, this place is not what it used to be. We really desperately need some kind of new thinking, probably a genius mayor who can come up with a way to revitalize this place because it's sinking fast.

Rev. AUBREY WALLACE (Heavenly Star Missionary Baptist Church, Marrero): And I'm of the belief that it doesn't make a difference if it was a Republican or a Democrat or if it's a black or white. If you're drowning and someone throws a life rope out to you, you don't look up and see who it is pulling you out of a hole.

ELLIOTT: But historically, this city has voted along racial lines.

Senator ED MURRAY (Democrat, Louisiana): Race is always an issue.

ELLIOTT: State Senator Ed Murray is running for mayor.

Sen. MURRAY: Quite frankly, in New Orleans now, it's become even more of an issue because after Katrina people felt like they were being told, you can't go back to your homes, you can't go back to your neighborhood, it doesn't need to exist. And people really had to fight to get their homes and neighborhoods back. So, people have a real spirit now about making sure that nobody turns the clock back on them.

ELLIOTT: Fighting crime and blight were the main topics at the debate. Former civil district judge Nadine Ramsey said citizens deserved better.

Ms. NADINE RAMSEY (Mayoral Candidate, New Orleans): For so long we have listened to politicians telling us about what they have done for our city. Our question must be quite simple: If so much has been done, why is our city in the condition that it is in?

ELLIOTT: The candidates are also touting their government experience after eight years of political novice Ray Nagin, a former businessman. Attorney Rob Couhig.

Mr. ROB COUHIG (Mayoral Candidate, New Orleans): Nobody wants to be the next Ray Nagin.

ELLIOTT: Candidate John Georges, a wealthy businessman, says it comes down to leadership, just like the undefeated New Orleans Saints and their head coach.

Mr. JOHN GEORGES (Mayoral Candidate, New Orleans): When you bring in a leader like Sean Payton, who's an optimist winner with a plan, he can hire the right team of experts, like Drew Brees when it comes to throwing a football. It's that simple in business. It's that simple in football. I've been a winner my whole life. I know how to pick the winners, I know how to put a plan together.

ELLIOTT: And some fans here will tell you, with the Saints 13-0 and aiming for the Super Bowl, anything is possible - even restoring faith in city hall.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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