Fifteen candidates contend in crowded primary for New Orleans mayor

Sunday, February 3rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Two men who had never run for office, a cable executive and the police chief, led 13 opponents in Saturday's primary for mayor to reach the March 2 runoff.

With 432 of 442 precincts _ 98 percent _ reporting, Cox Cable executive Ray Nagin had 36,396 votes, or 28 percent. Richard Pennington, on leave as superintendent of police, had 30,300 votes, or 24 percent.

``This is about New Orleans growing,'' Nagin, 45, told his supporters. ``It's about one of the greatest cities in America finally waking up and saying, `We're sick and tired, and sick and tired of the same old politics.'''

Nagin's self-financed grassroots campaign had no backing from any of New Orleans political organizations. However, he was endorsed by the city's daily newspaper, The Times-Picayune, and two weekly tabloids _ Gambit, the free alternative paper, and Louisiana Weekly, a paper aimed at black readers

Pennington, 54, in a speech claiming the second spot, said security would continue to be part of his campaign. ``The Super Bowl is here; this is a safe city,'' he said.

State Sen. Paulette Irons had 23,529 votes, or 18 percent. Councilmen Jim Singleton and Troy Carter had 16,619 and 13,335 votes, or 13 and 10 percent.

Opponents said both men were too close to Mayor Marc Morial, who could not run for a third term. Pennington was recruited and appointed by the mayor; Nagin's partners in the New Orleans Brass hockey team are friends of Morial's.

Each says Morial will not influence his decisions if he is elected.

Pennington had been expected to make the cut. But nobody else _ except candidates and their partisans _ would predict his opponent.

A referendum on raising the city's minimum wage to $6.15 an hour, $1 above the national minimum, also was on the ballot. It passed, but legal challenges are certain.

With 98 percent of the precincts reporting, the vote was 70,635 yes to 41,330 no, a 63 percent to 37 percent split.

``The business and social leaders of New Orleans have gotten by for decades by giving the citizens and workers promises and parades, and now the voters have clearly said `Enough! We want real jobs with real wages,''' said Wade Rathke, chief organizer of Local 100 of Service Employees International Union.

The mayor's race got off to a late start after Morial mounted a campaign to lift the city's two-term limit. Voters soundly rejected the bid in October and the field of candidates ballooned.

Pennington, who has widespread name recognition as a popular reformer _ he is credited with cleaning up a corrupt police department _ was among the late entries.

Irons, 48, had been the only major aspirant before the third-term referendum. But she was hurt by Pennington's candidacy _ and the revelation that a brother described in campaign ads as a victim of ``violence in the streets'' actually died in a shootout with police after a robbery.

Singleton, 68, has spent 24 years on the City Council. His age has been portrayed as a drawback for a high-profile job.

Troy Carter, 38, elected to the council in 1994, has become a successful businessman in recent years.

Term limits keep both Singleton and Carter from running again for council.