NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Boosted by a drop in the city’s murder rate and an endorsement from President Barack Obama, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu won a landslide victory Saturday in his bid for a second term.
“The results tonight confirm what we hoped was true four years ago: that the people of this great city are ready to move forward,” Landrieu told is supporters in a victory speech.
Landrieu had 64 percent of the vote with all precincts reporting in Saturday’s election.
The city’s beleaguered sheriff, Marlin Gusman, led three opponents in his race, despite having come under fire last year for problems at the city’s notoriously violent jail. An inmate-made video that surfaced showed drug use, drinking and an inmate brandishing a loaded gun inside the jail.
Gusman won 49 percent of the vote and will face a March 15 runoff against former Sheriff Charles Foti (FOH’-tee), who got 29 percent.
All of the candidates in both races were Democrats.
Landrieu came close to matching his impressive victory of four years ago. He won 66 percent of the vote over 10 opponents in 2010, becoming the first white mayor of majority black New Orleans since his father, Moon Landrieu, left office in the ’70s.
This year, he faced two African-Americans: retired Judge Michael Bagneris, who finished with 33 percent of Saturday’s vote, and local NAACP leader Danatus King, with 3 percent. In their campaigns, they said Landrieu did too little to cut crime or create jobs.
“I congratulated him and asked him to certainly take into account all the hard work that everyone here has done,” Bagneris told his election night crowd after a telephone call to Landrieu.
Bagneris retired from a state civil court judgeship in December to enter the mayor’s race. He has a history of political experience in the city, having worked in the administration of former Mayor Dutch Morial. Bagneris held the judgeship since 1993.
Bagneris posed a surprise challenge to Landrieu. Still, the late entry made it hard for him to earn stronger name recognition and raise money to fight a mayor who has remained popular despite a stubborn violent crime problem, budget cuts and other woes afflicting a city still recovering from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said University of New Orleans political science professor Ed Chervenak.
“It’s hard not to see the mayor winning,” Chervenak said.
Bagneris hit hard at the depletion of the city’s police force — which numbered more than 1,500 when Landrieu took office and has shrunk to around 1,200. He blames Landrieu and police chief Ronal Serpas for driving officers away and failing to budget enough money to make up for the attrition.
King hit at lingering inequality in the city, where some areas are still slow to redevelop more than eight years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
On crime, Landrieu supporters noted that Serpas, and the federal courts, have imposed tough reforms on police, including stronger regulations on officers’ off-duty private security details, which a Justice Department report said was a leading factor in police corruption. Moreover, Serpas and Landrieu say, improved policing techniques, joint anti-gang efforts with federal authorities and a host of social programs led to a 20 percent drop in the homicide rate from 2012 to 2013 — a drop they insist can be sustained despite Bagneris’ assertions to the contrary.
Landrieu also said he has taken unprecedented steps to bring a diverse city together, including hundreds of meetings around the city. Those have included public hearings in each City Council district that helped lead to consensus on how to cut a budget deficit once estimated at $80 million.
Landrieu and Gusman weren’t facing each other on Saturday’s ballot, but until their legal and political battles over the jail cooled in recent months, they looked like rivals.
At issue was an agreement Gusman reached with inmates’ lawyers and the U.S. Justice Department for reforms at the city jail. The city was faced with paying for the reforms, estimated to cost as much as $22 million, and Landrieu was highly critical of Gusman’s stewardship.
The fighting between the two men has subsided in recent months as the city and sheriff’s office have discussed ways of financing the reforms.
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