In New Orleans Reelection Bid, Nagin Faces a Crowded Field

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 23, 2006

NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 22 -- Mayor C. Ray Nagin walked up to a table full of disgruntled subcontractors at the famous Cafe du Monde here a few days ago. When they asked the mayor what he could do to streamline debris removal in New Orleans and help smaller companies get more of the work, Nagin smiled, threw up his hands and gave them the political version of the golden rule: "He who has the gold makes the rules."

And Nagin no longer has the gold. The money for rebuilding is being controlled by the federal government and state officials in Baton Rouge. And that means that many decisions, rulemaking capabilities and opportunities to enact change no longer belong to the mayor of post-Katrina New Orleans.

These days, the mayor has to beg for every single thing. The city is in dire financial straits, and Nagin has to petition the state for financial assistance just to maintain limited services. The mayor is waiting for the federal government to essentially tell him what his city is going to look like, as well as to answer crucial questions such as who will need flood insurance and what sort of temporary housing will be available.

It's a wonder anybody would want the mayor's job. But a host of people do. Nagin will be running for reelection against at least 10 challengers.

One of Nagin's most formidable opponents, Lt. Gov. Mitchell J. Landrieu, announced his candidacy Wednesday, and to many political observers here that means the race is on. It is a sprint, not a marathon. The nonpartisan primary election will be held April 22, with the top two vote-getters facing a runoff in May, if necessary.

"You have to be a thrill seeker, enjoy the ultimate challenge," Nagin said when asked why he still wants to be mayor of the city. "I've been looking for that all my life. Now I found it."

Nagin said he is not surprised that a number of people are running against him, but he noted that he thinks he has a good record, that his city is on the mend and that an increasing number of people are coming back and starting to rebuild. New Orleans, he said, has entered its rebuilding phase. "You shouldn't be changing leaders in the middle of this crisis," Nagin said.

In an interview, Landrieu said the diminished powers of the post-Katrina mayor had given him pause before he decided to run. But he said that, as lieutenant governor, he has learned that holding a political office is not always "about power and control, it's about accountability and responsibility."

He said he has lobbied Congress many times and has a good relationship with Donald Powell, President Bush's coordinator for Gulf Coast rebuilding.

Landrieu joins an eclectic field. L. Ronald Forman, chief executive officer of the Audubon Nature Institute, has a lot of citywide support. Other hopefuls include the Rev. Tom Watson, the only African American in the race besides Nagin; former City Council member Peggy Wilson; lawyers Virginia Boulet and Bill Wessel; public radio announcer James Arey; and former state representative Leo Watermeier.

Everyone expected Nagin to face strong opposition, said Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, a nonprofit public interest group. "But I don't think anybody was banking on the whole cast of 'Gone With the Wind' being in the race."

Like Nagin, Landrieu has marquee value. He is a younger brother of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and a son of Moon Landrieu, who was mayor of New Orleans in the 1970s and secretary of housing and urban development under President Jimmy Carter.

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