When Race-Based Voting Is Just Fine

The Times spent much of the 2008 campaign fretting about John McCain going after the white vote and fearing Barack Obama might lose the election because racist whites were reluctant to vote for blacks. Talk of the "Bradley Effect" haunted wishful pro-Obama campaign stories. But when it comes to blacks reluctant to vote for white candidates, the Times raises little criticism and hardly seems to care about the race-based voting pattern.

In Wednesday's "Black Candidate's Decision Transforms New Orleans Race," Southern-based reporter Campbell Robertson wrote an entire story about blacks in New Orleans agonizing over a prominent black candidate for mayor dropping out of the mayor's race. Robertson blandly restated the dismay among some blacks about "the possibility of a white man in the city's most powerful office."

The balance of power between blacks and whites in New Orleans has been an issue for decades, a back-and-forth that has only intensified since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, now that every election is a referendum on the future of the city. But a recent decision by a black candidate to drop out of the 2010 mayor's race has made the possibility of a white man in the city's most powerful office startlingly real.

A white man? How awful.

In the weeks after [Mitch] Landrieu's announcement, the wisdom among political experts around town had generally been that the Feb. 6 primary would result in two candidates who would go on to compete in the March runoff: a white candidate, most likely Mr. Landrieu, and a black one. The black candidate was widely expected to be Edwin R. Murray, a state senator who is well respected if a little reserved for the rough and tumble of New Orleans politics.

But Murray dropped out January 2, resulting in some inflammatory racial rhetoric that the Times let pass without showing its usual exquisite racial sensitivity.

Mr. Murray's decision, several campaign aides said, was based on recent polls showing Mr. Landrieu with a huge lead, buttressed by considerable support among black voters, many of whom remember the racial barriers torn down by Mr. Landrieu's father. That lead was not insurmountable, but overcoming it would have required a large outlay of campaign money that just was not there.

Mr. Murray also said in a statement that he had dropped out to avoid a racially divisive campaign. But the fact that his announcement left Mr. Landrieu and John Georges, a white businessman and former candidate for governor, as two of the front-runners, may have fueled just that.

The New Orleans Tribune, an African-American newsmagazine, called Mr. Murray's decision "a betrayal of the black community." At a news conference, Mr. Henry castigated the news media for having "prematurely crowned the next mayor as a white mayor."


Bill Rouselle, owner of a public relations and consulting firm, helped engineer Mr. Nagin's re-election in 2006 and had been working for Mr. Murray's campaign. Now he has agreed to join the Landrieu campaign....Mr. Rouselle said his daughter was even thinking of voting for Mr. Landrieu.

"For her to even consider voting for a white candidate is something totally different," he said. "It's almost as big a deal as the prospect two years ago that we would have an African-American president of the United States."