Hurricane Katrina reshaped political map of New Orleans, report says

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Hurricane Katrina's displacement of New Orleans' black residents has diminished their voice in the political process, according to new findings from Brown University sociologist John Logan. In a report presented at the "Searching for the Just City" conference in New York City this past weekend, Logan shows a shift in the racial composition of voters in New Orleans' first post-Katrina election and says there is decline in the political influence of black neighborhoods. The political impact of post-Katrina displacement is clear the electorate is shrinking and transforming.

Fewer than half of the city's nearly half-million pre-Katrina residents have been able to return to permanent residency in the New Orleans. Despite the gravity of public policy issues facing the city, voter turnout, 108,000, was 15 percent below that of the previous mayoral race in 2002 and 43 percent below the votes cast in the 2004 Presidential election. Even this relatively depressed level of participation depended on the unprecedented number of absentee ballots that were cast, about 21,000.

Even more significant than the decline in the number of votes, Logan says, is the composition of the electorate, which he examined by comparing the 2006 primary to the previous two elections. Though black residents are still a majority of voters, he shows that black neighborhoods suffered a loss of six to seven percentage points in their share of the electorate, from about 63 percent in 2002 to 57 percent in 2006.

"To the degree that elected officials gauge their choices in terms of what constituency they will have to answer to in the future, the voice of black residents has been diminished," said Logan, director of Brown University's Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences (S4) Initiative. "Prior to Katrina, some of these neighborhoods felt they were in the political 'driver's seat'; now, they are at risk of getting shut out of the rebuilding process."

He cites areas like Gentilly, New Orleans East, and Bywater as areas experiencing declines in voting, commensurate with damage the neighborhoods suffered. The instance of the greatest de-cline in participation relative to 2002 was seen in the Lower Ninth Ward, an area where the com-bination of extensive flooding, loss of public infrastructure and government restrictions on entry have seriously delayed recovery efforts. Voter turnout there plummeted by 40 percent. In con-trast, predominantly white neighborhoods like Algiers, Uptown-Carrolton, the French Quarter and Garden District see their participation and consequently their political influence -- on the rise.

The report also documents the "almost 180 degrees" shift of support for incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin. Though he led the field with about 38 percent of the vote, a runoff with Louisiana Lieu-tenant Governor Mitch Landrieu is scheduled for May 20. Unlike 2002, when Nagin led his op-ponent in white neighborhoods while lagging behind in black sections of the city, his core sup-port now is in the black community and he will be significantly handicapped by the diminished black vote.

A full copy of Logan's report is available at www.s4.brown.edu/katrina/report2.pdf

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