NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu won re-election to a second term on Saturday bolstered by a public perception the post-Hurricane Katrina recovery has created jobs and improved the local economy.
Landrieu had 64 percent of the vote, with all precincts reporting, according to preliminary results from the website of the Louisiana secretary of state.
Landrieu needed more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election and win another four-year term. His nearest challenger, state court Judge Michael Bagneris, had 33 percent of the vote.
Race played a role in the election in the mostly black city, with Landrieu who is white, saying his policies have benefited all, while his opponents said the needs of impoverished blacks have been mostly ignored.
In the end, Landrieu, 53, a scion of one of the state’s pre-eminent Democratic political families, appeared to have benefited from the strong base of support for his efforts to rebuild the Crescent City from the destruction inflicted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Landrieu addressed his jubilant supporters at his election night headquarters on Saturday.
“We have come a very, very long way together,” Landrieu told the crowd.
The mayor was surrounded by his family, which included his sister, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, and his father, former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu.
“Elections are America’s peaceful pathway to the future. They give full voice to the will of the people, and now the people of New Orleans have spoken again,” Landrieu said.
Landrieu, heading into the election on Saturday, had been the frontrunner to win.
But his two African-American challengers accused the mayor of failing impoverished communities still affected by the aftermath of Katrina.
The final candidate on the mayoral ballot was veteran civil rights lawyer Danatus King, who also is black. He had run a distant third in political polls and finished with 3 percent of the vote in preliminary results.
His main opponent, Bagneris, had been executive counsel to former Mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial and is well known in the black political establishment.
With New Orleans suffering from one of the highest per capita murder rates among major American cities, Bagneris criticized Landrieu’s handling of the problem.
Despite its persistently high crime rate compared to other large U.S. cities, Landrieu in his speech on Saturday said New Orleans has seen its murder rate drop to a 30-year low. He also pointed to indicators of the city’s progress that include rising employment and improved schools.
He told a reporter with television station WWL, a CBS affiliate, that strong support he received from black and white voters shows New Orleans has found unity.
“We’re not past race and anybody that says so is not telling the truth,” he told the reporter. “But the results for our team four years ago and now show that people are beginning to think along lines that are common to all of us. I think that says a lot about how mature we’re becoming as a city.”
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.
The hurricane flooded 80 percent of the city, killed 1,500 people and caused $80 billion in damage.
Landrieu had 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 helped Landrieu win in a landslide in 2010, which put the first white mayor in office in New Orleans since his father left that seat in 1978.
Reporting by Kathy Finn; Writing by Jon Herskovitz and Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker