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  Springtime in New Orleans
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ContributorBrandonius Maximus 
Last EditedBrandonius Maximus  Feb 17, 2010 10:24am
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CategoryCommentary
AuthorAdam B. Kushner
MediaMagazine - Newsweek
News DateWednesday, February 17, 2010 04:00:00 PM UTC0:0
DescriptionWhile New Orleans was consumed last week by its first-ever Super Bowl—and then by celebrating its first-ever victory—something even more important was happening here. The city chose a new mayor, its first in eight years. Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu made a few headlines for being the first white candidate, in a city that is more than 60 percent black, to win that office in 32 years (since his father held it). But the real story isn't his race. Landrieu's unity-and-reform agenda won an 11-way contest with 66 percent of the vote—a colossal mandate. With it, New Orleans may at last be entering an era of clean, efficient government—the kind that can finally rebuild from Katrina.

For many years before Katrina, a few big political machines dominated the city's government. They anointed candidates in the typical ways—by meeting, usually behind closed doors, and extracting pledges to advance their agenda. That usually took the form of patronage, either in appointments or government contracts. Because it was thought only a black candidate could be elected mayor here, the most powerful groups represented the black community. Political organizations like COUP (from the historically Creole Seventh Ward), LIFE (a rival Seventh-Ward body that produced another father-son mayoral dynasty), and BOLD (from Central City) didn't always agree with each other. But, with their loyal, deep-pocketed business allies and big voter-turnout muscle, mayoral hopefuls couldn't win without help from at least one of them. (White groups had a great deal of wealth—and therefore power, too—but only enough to be courted by crossover black candidates. There weren't enough white voters in New Orleans for a white man to win.) That meant officeholders—including down-ticket candidates like sheriffs and city councilmen—had debts to pay and faithful supporters to reward. And the result was a raft of corruption scandals that made New Orleans the butt of national jokes.
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