The third-place finisher in the New Orleans mayoral race endorsed Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu on Monday over Mayor Ray Nagin in next month’s runoff election.
Ron Forman, head of the organization that runs New Orleans’ zoo and aquarium, said Landrieu has his “full support” in the contest to decide who should lead the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“Mitch Landrieu has the experience to implement a plan, to manage a plan and to rebuild our city,” Forman said.
Landrieu said he was pleased to get Forman’s endorsement so quickly. “It needs all of its people to come together. I cannot do this by myself,” Landrieu said.
A spokesman for Nagin said the mayor was not immediately available for comment.
Forman received about 17 percent of the overall vote Saturday to Nagin’s 38 percent and Landrieu’s 29 percent.
Forman is white, and much of his support came from Nagin’s 2002 base, white conservatives. Nagin, a former cable TV executive who is black, was largely abandoned by whites this time but was supported by black voters.
If Landrieu wins the runoff May 20, he will be the first white mayor of New Orleans since his father, Moon Landrieu, held the office in the 1970s.
Nagin and Landrieu led a field of 22 candidates, which included business leaders, a lawyer and a minister. But because no one got a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters will meet in a runoff.
Black voters made up slightly more than half of the overall vote, according to a consulting firm analyzing demographic data for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.
In predominantly white precincts, Nagin trailed several other candidates with less than 10 percent of the vote, according to GCR & Associates Inc. It was a turnaround from 2002, when Nagin got most of his support from white voters and business leaders.
“His one shot is to get enough of the whites who liked him four years ago to like him again,” said political analyst Elliott Stonecipher.
Roughly a third of the city’s voters participated in Saturday’s election, some traveling hundreds of miles to help decide who will lead one of the biggest urban reconstruction projects in U.S. history. Fewer than half the city’s 455,000 residents have returned since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in August; most of those still displaced are black.
Voters, as they did in several other municipal races, chose two men already in the political spotlight.
“It was normal, natural to expect some such expression” of frustration against current officeholders after Katrina, Stonecipher said. “Instead, we got the opposite.”
The election, in which 36 percent of the 297,000 eligible voters participated, was an unprecedented experiment in democracy because so many registered voters are living in Texas, Georgia and other states. That forced multistate campaigning and led civil rights activists to question whether the election could be fair.
Nagin: 'We’re on the right track'
Nagin said the overall results were an endorsement of his plans for the city’s future and his four years in office.
“I just feel we’re on the right track, and people have verified that to me,” he said.
Before the storm, Nagin had been expected to easily win a second term.
Landrieu, who has held office in Louisiana for nearly two decades and is the brother of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, campaigned on his ability to attract a diverse group of voters.
Landrieu said the number who voted for candidates other than Nagin showed that “this city, this great city, calls for change.”
No major problems were reported at polling places, but the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Sunday the low turnout should be a mandate to further encourage participation among voters unable to return.
Jackson said the election would be challenged in court regardless of the outcome because voting rights need to be protected.
Stonecipher, however, said the turnout may not be a sign of disenfranchisement, but rather an indication that many registered voters don’t plan to return.
“The turnout really does speak to the issue of which and how many New Orleanians are still New Orleanians,” he said.
Nagin led the mayoral field with 41,489 votes, falling short of the majority needed to secure a second four-year term without the runoff. Landrieu had 31,499 votes. Forman followed with 18,734 votes.