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Voters re-elected Mayor Ray Nagin, the colorful leader whose blunt style endeared him to some but outraged others after Hurricane Katrina, giving him four more years to oversee one of the largest rebuilding projects in US history.
"This is a great day for the city of New Orleans. This election is over, and it's time for this community to start the healing process," Nagin said Saturday in a joyful victory speech.
"It's time for us to stop the bickering," he said. "It's time for us to stop measuring things in black and white and yellow and Asian. It's time for us to be one New Orleans."
Nagin won with 52.3 percent, or 59,460 votes, to Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu's 47.7 percent, or 54,131 votes. While the vote was split largely along racial lines, Nagin got enough of a crossover in predominantly white districts to make the difference. He also won a slim majority of absentee and fax votes cast by evacuees scattered across the country.
Nagin, a former cable television executive elected to office in 2002, had argued the city could ill-afford to change course as rebuilding gathered steam.
His second term begins a day before the June 1 start of the hurricane season in a city where streets are still strewn with rusting, mud-covered cars and entire neighborhoods consist of homes that are empty shells.
With little disagreement on the major issues - the right of residents to rebuild in all areas and the urgent need for federal aid - the campaign turned on leadership styles.
Nagin, a janitor's son from a working-class neighborhood, is known for his shoot-from-the-hip rhetoric. After Katrina plunged his city into chaos nine months ago, Nagin was both scorned and praised for a tearful plea for the federal government to "get off their (behinds) and do something" and his remark that God intended New Orleans to be a "chocolate" city.
In his victory speech, Nagin promised his supporters, "You're not going to get a typical Ray Nagin speech. I'm not going to get into trouble tonight, trust me."
He reached out to President Bush, thanking him for keeping his commitment to bring billions of dollars for levees, housing and incentives to the city.
And as for Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, with whom he feuded in the wake of the storm, Nagin thanked her "for what she's getting ready to do."
"It's time for a real partnership," he said. "It's time for us to get together and rebuild this city."
Landrieu, who served 16 years in the state House before being elected to his current post two years ago, had touted his polished political skills and his ability to bring people together.
He's the scion of a political dynasty known as Louisiana's version of the Kennedys - the brother of Sen. Mary Landrieu and son of New Orleans' last white mayor, Moon Landrieu, who left office in 1978.
In conceding the race, Landrieu echoed the theme of his campaign -- a call for unity.
"One thing is for sure: that we as a people have got to come together so we can speak with one voice and one purpose," he said.
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