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New Orleans Mayoral Race To Shape Future Of Storm-Ravaged City

Whoever wins the election will face an incredibly tough job making the attempt to try and reinvent New Orleans. Copyright AFP
by Allen Johnson
New Orleans (AFP) Apr 13, 2006
Absentee balloting began this week in a hotly contested mayoral race that will shape the future of storm-ravaged New Orleans. Embattled mayor Ray Nagin is facing stiff competition from several candidates who have offered a very different view of how best to rebuild the Big Easy after Hurricane Katrina swept floodwaters across nearly 80 percent of the city last August.

Many residents are worried that the city will wither away or emerge as a Disneyland version of its former self, and there has been tremendous pressure to ensure that the city's black residents - many of whom do not have the resources to rebuild on their own - are not left out. "There have been very few times in modern history where we have had the opportunity to rebuild a city from scratch," said Susan Howell, a pollster and political science professor at the University of New Orleans.

The April 22 primary election will help determine who will have a key discretionary role over how billions of dollars in federal money is spent to help New Orleans recover, Howell said. A runoff election between the top two of 22 candidates is scheduled for May 20.

Doing it right will be a tremendous challenge.

Entire neighborhoods still lack running water, street lights and adequate fire protection because of storm-shattered sewerage pipes. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency will not provide trailers until such services are restored. Repairs to the city's failed levee system are far from complete and with the next hurricane season set to begin on June 1, homeowners do not know where it will be safe to rebuild.

"People feel like government - at a lot of levels - have let them down," said Clancy DuBos, editor of Gambit Weekly, the city's alternative newspaper. "That means this election is open season on incumbents."

Nagin faced sharp criticism for failing to implement a comprehensive evacuation plan ahead of the storm that killed 1,200 people and for the chaos which ensued as thousands were trapped on rooftops and then placed in ill-equipped shelters.

He has also suffered major setbacks in the months following the storm as he tried to reunite a populace that was scattered across the country.

Nagin came under fire for a plan developed under his leadership that proposed imposing a moratorium on building permits and rebuilding the city starting from a smaller "footprint" of neighborhoods that escaped serious flooding, including the French Quarter.

After a public outcry, Nagin said he would allow residents to rebuild anywhere in the city, but "at your own risk" and warned that the city's limited budget would not be able to support full-scale services, including police and fire protection, outside the footprint.

Nagin's most serious challenger, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, advocates rebuilding all of the city's neighborhoods, the position favored by most blacks, Howell said.

"Shrinking the footprint shrinks our destiny," Landrieu has said.

Critics say his all-inclusive proposal is unrealistic until the city's levee system is strengthened, which could take years. But it has tremendous popular appeal. Some observers have said Landrieu could be the city's first white mayor since 1978.

Faced with declining popularity among black and white middle class voters who first elected him, Nagin has been aggressively campaigning for the support of low-income African-Americans, most of whom are still scattered outside the city.

The dispersion of more than half the city's residents across the country has complicated the electoral process.

Civil rights groups mounted several unsuccessful challenges in attempts to postpone the election or have officials set up satellite voting stations in cities with large groups of evacuees like Houston and Atlanta.

In the first two days people have been traveling by bus and car into satellite stations throughout Louisiana to cast their ballots. Some made the trip out of civic pride. Most were worried that unreliable mail service would stop their ballots from arriving in time by mail.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Indonesian Leader Calls For More Disaster Cooperation
Jakarta (AFP) Apr 11, 2006
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Monday urged Asia-Pacific nations to deepen cooperation on disaster management after the 2004 tsunami catastrophe. "It is a fact of life that our region is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters," Yudhoyono said in a speech opening a meeting between Asian ministers and leaders from tiny Pacific nations.

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