Image: Mitch Landrieu
Bill Haber  /  AP
Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu addresses supporters Saturday night in New Orleans. He was elected the city's mayor. news services
updated 2/7/2010 4:33:20 AM ET 2010-02-07T09:33:20

Frustrated by term-limited Mayor Ray Nagin's leadership of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, voters elected Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu to succeed him Saturday, turning to a political scion to speed up the city's recovery.

Landrieu, 49, became the majority-black city's first white mayor since 1979, the year his father Moon left the office. The mayor-elect, a moderate Democrat, won in a landslide over a field of 10 opponents. Democrat Troy Henry, a black businessman, came in second.

Landrieu's victory party was a nod to Carnival celebrations and preparations for the New Orleans Saints' appearance in the Super Bowl, and his victory party was a nod to both: the ballroom of the Roosevelt hotel — recently reopened after a post-Katrina restoration — was festooned with Saints-themed black and gold balloons. A roving brass band played Mardi Gras tunes and he prefaced his victory speech by leading the crowd in the Saints' "Who Dat" cheer.

"We're all going together and we're not leaving anybody behind," he shouted to a jubilant crowd as family members, including his father and his sister, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, stood beside him.

Voters wanted a city that was "unified rather than divided," he said.

About two-thirds of New Orleans' population is black and Landrieu was helped by his father's legacy of desegregating the city.

Focus on crime, recovery
The campaign also focused on the city's violent crime and slumping finances. Landrieu, who lost to Nagin in a runoff four years ago, was a welcome change for some voters who grew frustrated with the city's current mayor.

Little known outside New Orleans before Katrina, Nagin became a central and sometimes controversial figure in a city struggling to recover. Nagin won re-election as he courted black voters in the 2006 campaign, and notoriously pledged after the hurricane that New Orleans would be a "chocolate city" again, offending many whites.

He soon became the public face of the city's botched response to Katrina, which flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and killed 1,500 people.  Polls showed his popularity fell sharply in the years after the storm.

"I certainly don't want another Ray Nagin — a businessman," said Charlotte Ford, a 76-year-old semi-retiree and registered Republican who voted for Landrieu. "They balk instead of finding out what works, how the system works."

Ursula Murphy and her husband, Bill, voted early so they could avoid traffic caused by the parades. Both cast votes for Landrieu. "After eight years of negative, we're going to see some positive," Bill Murphy said.

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Buyers' remorse
Five years after Katrina, some of New Orleans' neighborhoods are still unfit for habitation due to flood damage, and its system of levees and flood walls — protecting a city with large areas situated below sea level — is vulnerable to a repeat of Katrina's catastrophic flooding.

Albert Arnold, 66, who lost his home in eastern New Orleans to Katrina, said Nagin's performance on Katrina recovery and crime has been disappointing.

"Crime is the biggest problem in the city, and it's gotten a lot worse in the last four years," Arnold said.

However, this year's election is less about race and more about "buyer's remorse" from voters' disappointment with Nagin, said Bernie Pinsonat, pollster and political strategist at Southern Media and Opinion Research.

"You have a very unpopular mayor who's a big disappointment to voters," Pinsonat said. "In Landrieu you have somebody the city looks to as a unifier and someone who can maybe get something done."

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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