NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Voting opened in New Orleans on Saturday, with front-runner Mayor Mitch Landrieu trying to win a another four-year term on a record of helping the Crescent City rebuild itself from Hurricane Katrina.
But his African-American challengers have said Landrieu, the white scion of one of the state’s pre-eminent Democratic political families, has not done enough to help the poor in the predominantly black city.
His main challenger is state court Judge Michael Bagneris, who had been executive counsel to former Mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial and is well-known in the black political establishment.
Landrieu, 53, needs more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff, which would be held March 15. Voting ends at 8 p.m. CST.
With polls putting Landrieu well ahead of his challengers, the main question is whether he will garner enough votes to avoid a runoff.
Boosted by massive federal aid, the city’s population and economy have grown steadily under Landrieu.
Tourism, one of New Orleans’ biggest industries, has made a striking recovery since Katrina hit in 2005, with visitor numbers in 2013 approaching a nine-year high.
But Landrieu’s opponents have said poor blacks have been left behind, and they accuse the mayor of not doing enough to help improvised communities recover from Katrina.
The hurricane flooded 80 percent of the city, killed 1,500 people and caused $80 billion in damage.
The final candidate on the mayoral ballot is veteran civil rights lawyer Danatus King, who also is black. He has been running a distant third in political polls.
Landrieu has also been seen in a more positive light due to the corruption trial that started this week for his predecessor, Ray Nagin. The former mayor is charged with receiving kickbacks from those seeking contracts to help the city rebuild from Katrina during his administration.
Voter frustration with Nagin not only helped Landrieu win in a landslide in 2010, but also put the first white mayor in office in New Orleans since his father, Moon Landrieu, left that seat in 1978.
Reporting by Kathy Finn; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn