NEW ORLEANS—Standing in the cafeteria of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, which he has attended since boyhood, Mayor Ray Nagin laughingly acknowledged Sunday that most of America woke up shocked at the news he had been re-elected.
“I think the nation is being entertained. I think this is a big reality TV show” to outsiders, the mayor said. “They don’t get it. They don’t get New Orleans. They really don’t get Ray Nagin.
“But that’s all right, because sometimes I don’t get Ray Nagin either.”
In the eight months since Hurricane Katrina left the Big Easy in ruins, Nagin has become the face and voice of the enduring troubles and sluggish recovery of New Orleans. His frankness and quick wit—assets when he left his job as a cable TV executive to run for mayor in 2002—have enraged as well engaged a watching world. Many wrote his political obit after a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech in which he said God wanted New Orleans to remain a “chocolate city.”
But Nagin beat Landrieu, the scion of a powerful Democratic family, 52.3 percent to 47.7 percent after more than half the electorate had fled the city. He won more than 80 percent of the black vote and just over 20 percent of the white vote. Only a month earlier, in a primary featuring 22 candidates, Nagin picked up well below 10 percent of the white vote.