New Orleans — An ad for the job might go something like this: "HELP WANTED: Turnaround specialist needed to revive American city downsized by catastrophe. Must be able to produce results on shrunken budget. Four-year contract only."
Mayor Ray Nagin will seek re-election today against Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, and the prize could prove to be one of the most difficult and disagreeable municipal jobs in America.
"You have to question, what do you win by winning?" said longtime New Orleans political analyst Silas Lee. "It's an enormous job. It's rebuilding the spirit of the city. It's not just the physical rebuilding. That's what makes this job so challenging."
The winner of the too-close-to-call race will govern a city where, nine months after Hurricane Katrina, streets are still strewn with rusting, mud-encrusted cars and entire neighborhoods consist of temporary trailers.
The leader of this city will need to figure out how to bring back its pre-Katrina population of 465,000, allay people's fears that this bowl-shaped metropolis will be safe when the next hurricane season begins June 1 and deal with the deep racial divide exposed by the storm.
If elected, Landrieu would be the city's first white mayor in a generation. New Orleans was two-thirds black before Katrina, and while the city's population has rebounded to nearly 200,000, a large number of blacks scattered by the storm have yet to return.
During the April primary, most of Nagin's support was from black voters, while most whites supported Landrieu and other candidates.
New Orleans evacuees are arriving by bus to vote. Many also are voting by absentee ballot or casting their ballots at satellite polling stations. As of Thursday, 24,000 already had voted, suggesting the evacuee vote could play a bigger role than it did during the primary.