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All politics is local

"All politics is local" Continued...

Issue: "Meltdown," April 22, 2006

On April 1, Mr. Nagin joined Rev. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and other black leaders at a rally that drew over 2,000 people to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. In fiery stump speeches, rally leaders proclaimed that in requiring displaced residents to either travel to Louisiana or vote by mail, Mr. Ater's department could violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act by "disenfranchising" large numbers of black voters. After the rally, thousands marched to the tune of ragtime musicians over the Crescent City Connection, a symbolic reenactment of the flight of Katrina victims over the same bridge.

In a letter to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Donald LaBruyere wrote that such activism was misplaced: "That energy and manpower could have been used to clean many of the neighborhoods that were trashed by Katrina. As someone who has volunteered over the past four months to help clean all parts of the city, I know we could use the help."

Jeff Crouere, host in New Orleans of the political radio talk show "Ringside Politics," was also skeptical. "I don't think Jackson and Sharpton are concerned about African-American voters. I think they're concerned about protecting the power base of African-American politicians."

Mr. Crouere called Mr. Nagin "basically just a crass opportunist" who won the mayor's seat in 2002 after promising to work with all business leaders, regardless of race, to promote economic growth. "Now that he's lost support in the white community with his idiotic 'chocolate city' speech, he's pandering to black voters and high-fiving Jesse Jackson," Mr. Crouere said.

Tulane's Celeste Lay couldn't predict how New Orleans citizens would react if a white mayor is elected. "It would depend on which of the white candidates was selected. Some are more polarizing than others." One-former city councilwoman Peggy Wilson, a Republican-offended many black voters when she used the term "welfare queen" at a recent debate.

Conversely, Ms. Lay predicted that Mr. Nagin's widely panned "chocolate city" remark would have little lasting effect. The election, she said, will be "less about punishing someone for past mistakes or for racism and more about who has the best plan and skills to lead this city. Race will be a factor, but not the overwhelming factor."

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