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New Orleans Voters Divided as City Prepares for Saturday’s Mayoral Election

New Orleans voters head to the polls Saturday to choose between incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu in a race that will determine the future leadership of a changing city still recovering from the damage of Hurricane Katrina.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    As a local band entertained New Orleans residents in Lafayette Square, it was almost hard to tell the city has been through such chaos these past eight months. But Hurricane Katrina has not only destroyed thousands of homes, it's changed the complexion of the city. Formerly two-thirds black, it's now half white, as a third of its residents are still spread around the country.

  • NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT:

    You da man.

  • MAYOR RAY NAGIN, New Orleans:

    Thank you.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The storm remade the city's politics. Ray Nagin had been a popular mayor before Katrina. Now he's fighting for his political life against Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu, son of the city's last white mayor.

    The two have been debating each other nearly every day leading up to Saturday's runoff election, but to most voters and even to the candidates themselves what they're saying about how they're rebuild New Orleans sounds remarkably similar.

    You conceded in the debate that you and the mayor are seeing eye to eye on a lot of the issues facing the city, so what's the choice for the voters? Is it a programmatic one, a personality one?

    LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU, Candidate for New Orleans Mayor: The question is, which one of us can actually bring people together, find higher common ground, which is critically important when you have so many different people trying to do one thing and actually implement the plan. That's what the city's going to need now. And what was OK before Katrina is not after, and that's going to be the difference between who wins and who doesn't.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Mayor Nagin bases his appeal on two pillars, that he's brought reform to a city that had been rife with corruption, and he's not a career politician like his opponent.

  • MAYOR RAY NAGIN:

    People are looking to create the right environment for growth, where billions of dollars are going to be spent, and you're telling me we want to set up the system that didn't work for 200 or 300 years, and clearly didn't work for the past 50 years? And we're going to set somebody up in office who's a professional politician where to have to come kiss the ring to get things done? That would be terrible.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Because of the city's open primary system, it's the top two vote getters, not party nominees, squaring off in the second round. So how do voters choose between two Democrats with very similar plans for the city's future?

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