Tuesday, March 07, 2006


"Not the content of their character"

Stephanie Grace

There was a time not so long ago when Mayor Ray Nagin wanted to have an open, frank discussion about race relations in his city.

"I challenge this community to continue to look at itself in the mirror," the mayor said.

Make no mistake, Nagin's still challenging people to look at themselves in the mirror. But now that he's running for reelection against a predominantly white field, he's no longer asking people to examine what's in their hearts. His new message, at least to some audiences, is that voters should judge candidates based on the color of their skin, not the content of their character.

"There's a potential to be a major change in the political structure in New Orleans," Nagin said over the weekend at a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People gathering in Houston, according to a report by Reuters. "There are 23 candidates running for mayor. Very few of them look like us."

But since Katrina has reshuffled the city's demographics and polls show his former white supporters willing to look elsewhere, Nagin's clearly pinning his reelection hopes on the same voters who have viewed him with suspicion before.

The assumptions behind that strategy aren't all off-base. Surely there are African-American voters, and even a few white voters, who worry that electing the first white mayor since the 1970s would send an unwelcoming message. And I've no doubt that there are some white voters who see the election as a chance to turn back the clock.

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