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Gary Younge
New Orleans: decision day

New Orleans goes to the polls today in what may be the most crucial mayoral election in its history. As I've written before there is little to distinguish between the candidates. The principle selling point of the incumbent, Ray Nagin, is his melanin count: Nagin is black and New Orleans has not had a white mayor for almost 30 years. The main attraction of the other; Mitch Landrieu is his name. Landrieu's sister, Mary, is a Louisiana state senator, his father, Moon, was the city's last white mayor of New Orleans.

For those interested in a progressive future for the city Landrieu maybe has a slight edge - but not significant enough to invest any great hope in.

What will be truly significant in these election is not who is elected but who votes for three key reasons. First of all the larger the number that vote the greater the legitimacy for whoever wins and has to rebuild a city in which more than half of the residents have yet to return.

Second, because the manner in which these votes have been conducted has proportionately had a clear racial impact on who can vote.

In last month's runoffs large numbers of evacuees, most of whom are African American and poor, did not vote. The black vote in this election fell by about 25%, which doubled the gap between between black and white turnout. Katrina laid bare the city's racial scars. An election that makes them deeper will not help.

Finally, it is not just a vote for mayor but a vote of confidence in the city. It will give a sense of not just of who is back but who would like to.

So it is heartening to see reports of a significant turnout in absentee ballots this time around. Whichever way the result goes it is crucial that these people remain foremost in the mind of whoever wins.

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