NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Boosted by a drop in the city's murder rate and an endorsement from President Barack Obama, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared victory Saturday as voters appeared to hand him a landslide victory and a second term.
Landrieu had 65 percent of the vote with more than 80 percent precincts reporting. His closest competitor conceded.
"The results tonight confirm what we hoped was true four years ago: that the people of this great city are ready to move forward," Landrieu said.
The city's beleaguered sheriff, Marlin Gusman, led over three opponents, despite having come under fire last year for problems at the city jail, including violence, drug use and escapes. The question was whether he would get a majority or face a runoff against former Sheriff Charles Foti (FOH'-tee).
Gusman had 48 percent of the vote, with most of the precincts reporting.
All of the candidates in both races were Democrats.
Landrieu appeared close to doing as well as he did four years ago. He won 66 percent of the vote over 10 opponents in 2010, becoming the first white mayor of majority black New Orleans since his father, Moon Landrieu, left office in the '70s.
This year, he faced two African-Americans: retired Judge Michael Bagneris, and local NAACP leader Danatus King. In their campaigns, they said Landrieu did too little to cut crime or create jobs.
Bagneris, who was a distant second, conceded to Landrieu.
"I congratulated him and asked him to certainly take into account all the hard work that everyone here has done," he said to a crowd at his election night party.
Bagneris retired from a state civil court judgeship in December to enter the mayor's race. Bagneris has a long history of political experience in the city, having worked in the administration of former Mayor Dutch Morial. Baneris held the judgeship since 1993.
Bagneris posed a surprise challenge to Landrieu. Still, the late entry made it hard for Bagneris to earn stronger name recognition and raise money to fight a mayor who has remained popular despite a stubborn violent crime problem, steep budget cuts and other persistent problems afflicting the city still recovering from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said University of New Orleans political science professor Ed Chervenak.
"It's hard not to see the mayor winning," Chervenak said.
Bagneris hit hard at the depletion of the city's police force — which numbered more than 1,500 when Landrieu took office and has shrunk to around 1,200. He blames Landrieu and police chief Ronal Serpas for driving officers away and failing to budget enough money to make up for the attrition.
King hit at lingering inequality in the city, where some areas are still slow to redevelop more than eight years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
On crime, Landrieu supporters noted that Serpas, and the federal courts, have imposed tough reforms on police, including stronger regulations on officers' off-duty private security details, which a Justice Department report said was a leading factor in police corruption. Moreover, Serpas and Landrieu say, improved policing techniques, joint anti-gang efforts with federal authorities and a host of social programs led to a 20 percent drop in the homicide rate from 2012 to 2013 — a drop they insist can be sustained despite Bagneris' assertions to the contrary.
Landrieu also said he has taken unprecedented steps to bring a diverse city together, including hundreds of meetings around the city. Those have included public hearings in each City Council district that helped lead to consensus on how to cut a budget deficit once estimated at $80 million.
Landrieu and Gusman weren't facing each other on Saturday's ballot, but until their legal and political battles over the jail cooled in recent months, they looked like rivals.
At issue was an agreement Gusman reached with inmates' lawyers and the U.S. Justice Department for reforms at the city jail. The city was faced with paying for the reforms, estimated to cost as much as $22 million, and Landrieu was highly critical of Gusman's stewardship.
The fighting between the two men has subsided in recent months as the city and sheriff's office have discussed ways of financing the reforms.