Over at Gulf Coast Reconstruction Watch, the Institute's special Katrina project, we have a thoughtful look at the race dynamics of yesterday's New Orleans elections by scholar Lance Hill. Hill charts mayor Ray Nagin's rise from a candidate considered to be a sure loser to victor:

I was surprised too. But there were hints along the way.

Back in September it was hard to find an African American who had anything good to say about New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. In early September, New Orleans Rap artist Juvenile penned the song "Get Ya Hustle On" which was released as an album and video in February of 2006. The song castigated Nagin as someone that black people couldn't trust and his video featured three figures wandering the devastated Ninth Ward wearing paper masks of George Busch, Dick Cheney, and Ray Nagin. Three peas in a pod as far as Juvenile was concerned.

Juvenile was someone to listen to if you wanted a gauge black opinion-at least poor dispossessed blacks. In 2002 Tulane professor Joel Devine published a study of public opinion of Central City neighborhood of New Orleans, an overwhelmingly black and poor neighborhood bordering the most affluent sections of Uptown New Orleans.
Devine's poll asked residents in nine of the eleven census tracts who they regarded as the most important leaders in their community for "getting things done." Respondents were offered choices including the current Mayor, Marc Morial, and other black elected officials as well as home-grown Rap entertainers, including Juvenile.

Remarkably, Juvenile trounced the opposition. While only 11% of the respondents considered Morial "very important, nearly three times as many (32%) ranked Juvenile as the most effective leader. Indeed, Juvenile emerged as the most popular leader in the community, followed by rappers Master P and Jubilee. Based on his popularity, it would be reasonable to conclude that Juvenile was only giving voice to the attitudes among his supporters and fans who hesitated to express them publicly.

Things began to change in the following months. On April 1, 2006, I attended the rally and March across the Mississippi River Bridge protesting the racist the
Gretna police blockade of black refugees during the Katrina flooding. As a historian of civil rights movement, I can say that the 5,000 people who crossed the bridge were taking part in the largest protest in New Orleans history.

That fact slipped past the local media but it was still a harbinger of the growing anger and frustration that African Americans were feeling. Something else was obvious at the rally and march.For the first time I noticed public support for Nagin.

Read the rest here. Lance is a long-time observer of the New Orleans political scene, and his take is very illuminating.

For two other takes, pre-election, CC Campbell Rock (New Orleans native, now at SF Bay View) and Jordan Flaherty (in New Orleans, for Left Turn) offer important observations about the challenges a new NOLA mayor faces.