No candidate appears to be making a more explicit racial bid than the incumbent mayor, C. Ray Nagin, the one major black candidate in the jostling, Katrina-inspired crowd.
An unknown executive in 2002, elected largely thanks to white support and for years the target of sharp criticism among blacks in New Orleans for failing to favor black-owned companies, Nagin has been all but abandoned by the white businessmen who enthusiastically supported him the first time. They now fault his post-Katrina leadership and are donating thousands to his white opponents.
As a result, he has remade himself as a black candidate, first with his provocative speech in which he predicted New Orleans would once again be a mostly black "Chocolate City"; later by disavowing a reconstruction plan masterminded by whites, which was seen by blacks as cold-shouldering ruined black neighborhoods. This past weekend he took part in a protest march over the election led by the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, national figures he was not previously close to.
Jim Carvin, his veteran campaign consultant, acknowledged that Nagin was counting on a moment of racial solidarity. "In each election black voters have voted for black candidates against a white candidate," said Carvin, who has advised every successful New Orleans mayoral campaign since 1970. "My feeling is they will do the same thing again."
From today's front page Washington Post article headed "Candidates Ask That Race Be Kept Out Of Runoff":
Nagin, some observers believe, is loath to play racial politics, partly by nature and particularly because he has been targeted by both sides.
"Neither one of these candidates wants to play a race card. They're just not that type," said Susan E. Howell, a pollster and political scientist at the University of New Orleans.
From a January 17 New Orleans Times-Picayune article headed "Evoking King, Nagin calls N.O. 'chocolate' city":
"This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be," Nagin said. "You can't have it no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans."
"We ask black people. . . . It's time for us to come together," said the mayor, who is black.
"It's time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans," he said. "And I don't care what people are saying in Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day."
I guess it depends on what the meaning of "mayoral race" is...