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Hurricane Katrina anniversary: Can New Orleans' new mayor revive the city?

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For his part, Landrieu finds hope from the very fact that he was elected to solve this predicament.

He is the first white mayor of New Orleans since his father, Moon, was mayor in 1978 – and he was swept into office with 66 percent of the vote in a six-way race. In other words, New Orleans turned its back on a long history of racially divisive politics – emphatically – to elect Landrieu.

"I am the same person I was four years ago," (when he lost to Nagin), "but the people made a different choice," he says during an interview conducted in his city hall office. "What's becoming clearer to us is, as much as we ask the federal government to help … people here now instinctively know that it's our responsibility to turn the city around. And if we don't make good choices, and we don't keep after it, the city won't succeed."

Success, however, is not always easy to define. Certainly, the town is no longer a tableau of destruction, with broken levees and 182,000 destroyed homes. There are new start-up businesses, tidy homes set amid immaculate landscaping, and, of course, the French Quarter – still robust.

Yet 50,076 homes remain "blighted" – 23 percent of the city's residential addresses, according to "The New Orleans Index at Five," a Brookings Institution report. That's down from one-third of the city's residences being deemed blighted in 2008, but it still puts New Orleans far behind other economically troubled cities such as Flint, Mich.; and Detroit.

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