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Forman endorses Landrieu in New Orleans mayoral race

Incumbent Nagin faces stiff challenge from Lt. Governor

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Incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin says New Orleans residents don't need a new mayor amid reconstruction.

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New Orleans (Louisiana)
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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Ron Forman, who placed third in last week's mayoral election, will endorse Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu in the runoff slated for May 20, his press secretary said Monday.

Forman was to make the announcement Monday afternoon, she said.

Mayor Ray Nagin, who was criticized for vowing that New Orleans would remain a "chocolate city," with a black majority, is to face Landrieu in the runoff.

Preliminary results from Saturday's vote gave Nagin 33,334 votes (38 percent). Landrieu had 23,923 votes (28 percent) and Forman garnered 15,207 votes (18 percent).

All three men are Democrats.

Official results will not be available until Tuesday, according to Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater, whose office oversaw the election and was counting the ballots.

The tallies did not include 21,253 absentee ballots.

Nagin, 49, was a cable company executive before winning the mayor's office in 2002 on a platform of fighting corruption in city government. He argued during this campaign that, with Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts at full throttle, "Now is not the time to change leadership."

"(I) never thought I'd have this kind of support after some of the crazy things I said," Nagin said Saturday night as votes were counted. He made the "chocolate city" comment in January.

While he eventually apologized for the comment, it continues to dog him.

Katrina-related flooding devastated heavily black areas such as New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward, and -- unlike some upscale white neighborhoods like the French Quarter -- few of those residents have been able to return.

"We're going to rebuild this city into something special. We're going to have quality schools for every child," Nagin said. "We will eliminate blight. ... And most importantly ... we will no longer be a city of haves and have-nots."

Racial shift

The perception of a possible racial shift in the city's voting demographics was reflected in the makeup of the field in the mayoral race. Of the three top vote-getters, only Nagin is black.

Landrieu, 45, was a state legislator before being elected lieutenant governor in 2004. He is the brother of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and the son of Moon Landrieu, the city's last white mayor, who left office in 1978.

"Tonight, we take the second step on this journey back home, and I ask all New Orleanians to join with me in this march as we proclaim to America that New Orleans will be rebuilt," Landrieu said after the results were announced. "The questions are simple: Who do you trust with your future, the future of your family?"

Forman, 58, who has strong ties to the business community, had not run for political office before. As president and CEO of the Audubon Nature Institute, Forman oversaw creation of the city's acclaimed zoo and aquarium.

In a concession speech, Forman promised to "work day and night with either Mitch or Ray to rebuild this city."

"We stood up and said, 'We want change,' " he said. "We represent 20 percent of the vote ... we have a chance to be the greatest city in the world."

The biggest question hanging over the election was how many residents displaced by the storm would vote -- and how the uprooting of so many people would alter the racial balance of politics in New Orleans, which hasn't had a white mayor in nearly 30 years.

The latest figures from the Louisiana secretary of state's office show the city has about 298,000 registered voters, about 63 percent of whom are black.

Estimates are that more than six of 10 New Orleanians are still living outside the city.

Civil rights groups challenged the election plan in court, charging that it favored white voters because, while most of the displaced voters living inside Louisiana are white, most still outside the state are black. They argued that requiring displaced voters to pay to travel to Louisiana amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax.

The groups wanted the state to establish satellite voting stations in cities such as Houston and Atlanta, where many displaced voters now live, but a federal judge rejected their challenge in late March.

CNN's John King, Susan Roesgen, Robert Yoon and Molly Levinson contributed to this report.

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