On Saturday, New Orleans will hold a primary for what is being considered the city’s most important mayoral race ever. Voting rights activists fear tens of thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees living out of state will be unable to vote. We speak with Mayor Ray Nagin and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu. [includes rush transcript]
On Saturday, New Orleans will hold a primary for what is being considered the city’s most important mayoral race ever.
Protests surrounding the vote have been taking place for months. Voting rights activists fear tens of thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees living out of state will be unable to vote. Efforts were made to set up satellite voting locations in cities like Houston or Atlanta but a federal judge rejected the idea. Evacuees living out of state have been given two options: attempt to vote by absentee ballot or spend hours driving to a polling location inside Louisiana.
Two weeks ago, Democracy Now! traveled to New Orleans and we caught up with Ray Nagin as well as one of his chief opponents, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu. Landrieu is the brother of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and the son of Moon Landrieu, the city’s last white mayor.
We asked Mayor Nagin about his concerns that the vast majority of African American evacuees from New Orleans may not be able to vote in the upcoming mayoral election.
- Ray Nagin, mayor of New Orleans.
Earlier this week the Army Corps of Engineers announced the levees had been restored to pre-Katrina strength. But the Corps admitted that armoring of the levees probably won’t take place until the end of the hurricane season.
While in New Orleans, we also caught up with Nagin’s top opponent, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu. We spoke outside the historic African-American church St. Augustine.
- Mitch Landrieu, Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana.
AMY GOODMAN: Two weeks ago Democracy Now! went to New Orleans, and we caught up with Mayor Ray Nagin, as well as one of his chief opponents, Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu. Landrieu is the brother of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and the son of Moon Landrieu, the city’s last white mayor. I asked Mayor Nagin about his concerns that the vast majority of African American evacuees from New Orleans may not be able to vote in the upcoming mayoral election.
MAYOR RAY NAGIN: Well, I’ve always been concerned about that. That’s why I’ve been talking with the Secretary of State to try and make it as easy as possible. Right now, if they’re not going to absentee vote or come to the city, they’re really going to have a tough time.
AMY GOODMAN: And that issue of Iraqis being able to vote by satellite, but not here for New Orleans residents outside of New Orleans?
MAYOR RAY NAGIN: Yeah, it’s really a shame, you know, that this is happening in the United States. We have the technology. We could have done this much better and much easier for all of our citizens. You know, considering all that we went through and the levees broke. If it wasn’t for the levees, our folks wouldn’t be dispersed. The government should have moved and made it as convenient — nobody should have to leave where they are to vote. And it’s a shame.
AMY GOODMAN: You said hurricane season is almost upon us. Have the levees been strengthened to deal with the kind of hurricane like Katrina, hurricane 5?
MAYOR RAY NAGIN: They look like they’re going to be okay by the time June 1st gets here. I’ve been inspecting the levees, meeting with the Corps of Engineers, and they’re doing the base-level work that if another Katrina came through, we wouldn’t have the catastrophic flood.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you saying that hurricane 5, these levees could deal with?
MAYOR RAY NAGIN: Oh, no. I’m not saying that. Another Katrina-like storm. A hurricane 5 is a whole different matter. That requires restoring our wetlands, armoring the levees. There’s a whole lot more that needs to be done.
AMY GOODMAN: And why can’t that be done now, immediately?
MAYOR RAY NAGIN: It’s a matter of money, and the Congress has not authorized that yet.
AMY GOODMAN: Who’s been in the way of that?
MAYOR RAY NAGIN: I don’t know. I mean, I’m up there lobbying as much as I can. We took them from one billion to now they have three billion, and now they’re asking for six billion, so it looks like it’s an incremental process.
AMY GOODMAN: That was New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Earlier this week, the Army Corps of Engineers announced the levees had been restored to pre-Katrina strength, but the Corps admitted that armoring of the levees probably won’t take place until the end of the hurricane season. While in New Orleans, I also caught up with Nagin’s chief opponent, Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu. We spoke outside the historic African American Catholic church, St. Augustine.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think New Orleans will ever become a majority black city again?
LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU: It is now.
AMY GOODMAN: It doesn’t look that way.
LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU: Well, it just depends on what neighborhood you go in. You must not be going into all the neighborhoods, but this city — I’ll try to explain this to the national media one more time. This city has never been all black and never been all white. The beauty of this city is that it’s everything to everybody, from the beginning of time. Before the United States became a union, we had so many different kinds of people down here, and the entire culture arises out of that. That’s why you feel something different when you come down here than what you see in New York or what you see in Los Angeles or Chicago. We have so many different kinds of people that we’re all a melting pot. That’s why we call it a gumbo. And so, I mean, it really is this attitude of getting along. Our multicultural side of us, our diversity is our strength. It’s not our weakness. And we really work hard not to be separated the way the national media wants to try to separate us.
AMY GOODMAN: But the majority of the poorest black residents have not been able to return.
MITCH LANDRIEU: Well, I think that’s true. I mean, the poor always get hurt. General Honore said this the best: "When it’s cold, the poor are colder. When it’s hot, the poor are hotter." So it’s an issue of poverty, and it’s an issue of race. It’s an issue of both. There are white people here that were here that got hurt very badly. African Americans did, too. So the issue really is not as much about race as it is about poverty. They’re not the same thing. Sometimes they coincide. As a nation, we need to figure out the difference between the two, and we need to address both of them.
AMY GOODMAN: And how are you going to get them back to New Orleans?
MITCH LANDRIEU: Well, again, you were at the forum yesterday. I mean, the whole point is to try to get the city up and operating as quickly as possible and welcome everybody back, but it’s housing, it’s schools, it’s education, it’s healthcare. Nothing can happen fast. This city is really hurt very badly. You can’t wave a magic wand and turn it back into what it was before Katrina, so we’re all going to have to struggle through this together. Today is an example how you can find [inaudible]. We made a success out of something that was really tough. So if we keep working together like we have with something like this particular issue, maybe we can get there.
AMY GOODMAN: That was New Orleans mayoral candidate, Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu. I interviewed him outside of St. Augustine shortly after a mass marking the re-opening of the oldest African American church in the country. The Archdiocese of New Orleans recently attempted to close the parish but was forced to reverse its decision following protests and a sit-in inside the church’s rectory.