New Orleans Braces for Saturday's Election

May 18, 2006

It's the kind of thing that makes you wonder if we political types focus on the wrong thing.

I'm talking about the contest for mayor of New Orleans, which is in two days. The runoff pits Mayor Ray Nagin against Mitch Landrieu, who is Lousiana's lieutenant governor and brother of Sen. Mary Landrieu, and it's the talk of the political community. Hey, let's talk about race! Nagin, a black man, is facing a white challenger in a city where much of its African-American population was forced to flee in the wake of Hurricane Katrina last fall. Other questions are thrown around as well. Could Nagin have done a better job in preparing the city for the storm? Would Landrieu's approach have been any different? Who is best suited to continue in New Orleans' rebuilding? And who is going to win?

Our Cheryl Corley is in New Orleans, and I suspect you will be hearing from her a lot in the next few days on many NPR programs.

Cheryl also reminds everyone that the deadline to vote by absentee ballot is fast approaching. Anyone who wants to do that must request a ballot by 4:30 p.m. CDT Friday. And the deadline to get the ballots to the Orleans Parish registrar's office is 8:00 p.m. CDT Saturday, when the polls close. The ballots can be faxed (1-504-658-8315) or mailed to the office, which is at 1300 Perdido Street, Room 1W23, New Orleans, LA 70112. For more information, the number to call is 1-800-883-2805.

But there's more.

I just got a note from a group called "Women of the Storm," a group of women whose lives were affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and who are working to educate the nation about what's going on with the Gulf Coast's wetlands. Anyway, the note offers the chilling reminder that June 1 -- two weeks from today -- is the official beginning of the hurricane season.

And suddenly, the mind immediately drifts away from seemingly trivial matters like who's going to win on Saturday, and it focuses to things far more important. What would another category five hurricane do to New Orleans? How much has been done since Katrina to buffer the city? And are we about to witness another heart-wrenching catastrophe?

We political wags love to talk about campaigns and strategy and polls and that kind of stuff. Every now and then we must remember that there is more at stake than who's up and who's down. People are affected by public policy, how their public officials do their job. And often, the job is not easy. And there are consequences.

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