In a complete reversal of support from four years ago, Mayor Ray Nagin scored heavily with black voters and was practically abandoned by whites as he and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu won spots in a mayoral runoff election.
The black incumbent, who received most of his support from white voters in the 2002 election, garnered less than 10 percent of the vote Saturday in predominantly white precincts, according to GCR & Associates Inc., a consulting firm analyzing demographic data for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.
But Nagin, who offended many white voters in January when he suggested God wanted New Orleans to remain a "chocolate city," saw black voters rush to his defense. He received 65 percent or more of the vote in predominantly black neighborhoods, the consultant found.
Landrieu, who is white, finished with 29 percent of the overall vote to Nagin's 38 percent. He finished second in black neighborhoods to Nagin and second in white neighborhoods to third-place finisher Ron Forman, bolstering his claims that he can help bring together diverse groups to help New Orleans emerge from the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina.
Landrieu said Sunday that the number of voters who chose candidates other than Nagin demonstrated that voters want change. "This city, this great city, calls for change," he said.
Nagin, a former cable executive seeking his second term as mayor, said his overall win is an endorsement of his performance and his plans for the city's future.
"I just feel we're on the right track, and people have verified that to me," he said.
The numbers suggest it will be a serious challenge for Nagin to broaden his support in time for the May 20 runoff.
"His one shot is to get enough of the whites who liked him four years ago to like him again," said political analyst Elliott Stonecipher.
Those votes are all the more important because the city is whiter than it was before Katrina hit Aug. 29: Fewer than half the city's 455,000 residents have returned, and most of those displaced are black. Only about 20,000 evacuees participated in Saturday's election by absentee ballot, fax and satellite stations, although an unknown number returned to the city to vote in person.
Nearly half of voters in predominantly white areas turned out, compared with about 30 percent of registered voters in black neighborhoods, which also tended to be the worst hit by flooding.
No major problems were reported at polling places, but the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Sunday the low overall turnout should be a mandate to do more to encourage participation among voters unable to return since Katrina turned neighborhoods into debris fields.
Jackson said the election will be challenged in court; he and other critics have said the city should have set up out-of-state satellite polling stations, in evacuee hubs such as Houston and Atlanta, to encourage voter turnout.