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New Orleans Mayor Landrieu aims to ride Katrina policies to new term

Source: Reuters - Sat, 1 Feb 2014 02:54 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS, Jan 31 (Reuters) - New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu seeks re-election on Saturday, positioned as the front-runner riding a wave of support for his policies to rebuild the city from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.

But his African-American challengers have said Landrieu, the white scion of one of the state's pre-eminent Democratic political families, has not done enough to help the poor in the predominantly black city.

His main challenger is state court Judge Michael Bagneris, who had been executive counsel to former Mayor Ernest "Dutch" Morial and is well-known among the African American political establishment.

Landrieu, 53, needs more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff, which would be held next month.

"There will more than likely be a winner tomorrow - there won't be a runoff," political consultant and pollster Silas Lee told Reuters on Friday.

A University of New Orleans 2013 poll showed that Landrieu had an overall approval rating of about 70 percent, with some two-thirds of blacks saying they support the mayor.

Under Landrieu, the local economy has rebounded, with billions of dollars' worth of help from the federal government, and held up better than the nation at large.

Tourism, one of the city's biggest industries, has made a striking recovery since Katrina struck in 2005, with visitor numbers in 2013 approaching a nine-year high.

Landrieu has also been seen in a more positive light due to the corruption trial that started this week for his predecessor, Ray Nagin, charged with receiving kickbacks from those seeking contracts to help the city rebuild from Katrina when he was mayor.

Voter frustration with Nagin not only helped Landrieu win in a landslide in 2010, but also put the first white mayor in office in New Orleans since Landrieu's father, Moon Landrieu, left that seat in 1978.

Bagneris has criticized Landrieu's handling of an ongoing local crime problem. New Orleans has one of the higher per capita murder rates among major American cities.

He also said Landrieu has not done enough to implement federal consent decrees mandating sweeping changes that the U.S. Justice Department has imposed on the New Orleans Police Department and the Orleans Parish Prison.

"If Bagneris gets elected, it will not mean a radical departure in terms of agenda," Lee said.

"Both candidates have similar views about what they would support, such as improving crime and education. They may have different styles, but in terms of issues, they are pretty much on the same page."

The only other major candidate on the mayoral ballot is veteran civil rights attorney Danatus King, who also is black. He has less name recognition and has been running a distant third in political polls.

Landrieu in early January secured the endorsement of President Barack Obama, which could be a boon in heavily Democratic New Orleans.

Landrieu's sister, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, has been trying to distance herself from the president as she faces re-election this year in Louisiana, a state that is heavily Republican. (Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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