NEW Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has a formidable task ahead now that he has been re-elected. The mayor managed to beat the odds by winning a second term, but showing he can bring his city back won't be easy. His passion for rebuilding New Orleans isn't the issue - he showed that with his exasperation after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city last August.
Mayor Nagin's re-election was no landslide, but he did achieve a clear victory over his opponent, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, son of a former New Orleans mayor and brother of current U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
With much of the city's nearly half million population still displaced and devastation greater in black wards than in white, it was remarkable that 113,591 votes were cast. Perhaps more astonishing is that the mayor won with 52.4 percent, a much closer margin than in the April primary when 22 candidates vied for mayor and Mr. Nagin led Mr. Landrieu by nearly two to one.
What was most heartening was that voters took their civic duty seriously. Citizens uprooted by the hurricane and living in Houston and as far away as Atlanta refused to let distance keep them from voting. They boarded buses for their hometown, while more than 25,000 others voted early by using mail, fax, and satellite polling sites.
Not everything worked in Mr. Nagin's favor. Senator Landrieu's criticisms didn't help him with his own Democratic Party.
But the famous Landrieu name - Moon Landrieu left office in 1978 - and a hefty campaign war chest did not sway voters: Mr. Landrieu spent $3.5 million; Mr. Nagin about half as much.
The election went smoothly even though it followed a post-hurricane storm of racial prejudice. Blacks said the Bush Administration didn't respond quickly or effectively enough because of the race of most of the hurricane victims. Whites blamed blacks for their own suffering, saying they should have left the city sooner. Mr. Nagin bought into some of that, which hurt him among white voters this time.
So now, as Mr. Nagin begins his second term at the end of May, his mantra will have to be all economic development, all the time. New Orleans cannot come back without substantial investment. It needs to clean up the mess, rebuild, and resolve a serious housing crisis.
If Mayor Nagin can achieve all that, his success could place him on the national political stage. More important, one of America's great cities will thrive again.
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