An exceptionally heavy turnout was reported today in an election to decide whether a three-term white city councilman or a pioneering black lawyer will become the city's next mayor.

Early returns indicated more than 70 per cent of the city's 228,000 registered voters would cast ballots in the race between Ernest Morial, a 48-year-old former appeals court judge, and Joe DiRosa, 60, a city councilman for 12 years.

The winner will succeed Mon Landrieu, a former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors who is forbidden by law from running for a third term.

Both Morial and DiRosa are Democrats, but their names appear without party affiliation on the non-partisan ballot.

Morial was the first black to graduate from Louisiana State law school, serve in the state legislature and sit on the juvenile and appellate court benches.

DiRosa is the son of an Italian immigrant and the senior member of the city council.

The two are longtime foes, having faced one another eight years ago in an election for city council. With a 70 per cent white registration at the time, DiRosa beat Morial by 5,600 votes.

Six weeks ago, with registration 58 per cent white, Morial finished first by 4,400 votes in an 11-man field for amyor of the nation's 20th largest city. DiRosa beat the third place candidate by 265 votes.

In the runoff, the two candidates - both of whom are more conservative than liberal - offered a distinct choice of style.

Morial was called arrogant by Landrieu, smong others, because of his abrasive personality. But he gained support with his impassioned pledgesto improve the quality of life in New Orleans.

DiRosa, who promised to increase services without increasing taxes, had the support ofmost of the city's old-line political organizations.

Morial's legal entanglements to stay on the ballot - overshadowed all issues - including race - in the final days of the campaign.

Morial challenged a state law prohibiting sitting judges from running for other public offices and a federal court overturned the state law. When a federal appeals court suspended tha ruling.Morial resigned his judgeship and later on a battle before 41 judges in six courts to remain on the ballot.