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Out of Touch 

Anti-Nagin preachers are as out of touch with the voters as they are with City Hall and the FBI. Then again, it's not easy to get the pulse of the people from inside a Rolls

While rival groups of black ministers debate whether Mayor Ray Nagin has been good for African-Americans in New Orleans, the city's voters are saying they like him just fine -- and they want him re-elected. A majority of voters also believes that the ongoing federal investigation into suspected corruption during the Marc Morial years is being conducted "in a fair and unbiased manner."

Those are just some of the findings in a recent poll conducted for Entergy by local pollster Dr. Silas Lee, who periodically surveys the local electorate for the utility company.

Nagin came under fire from one group of black ministers, who offered no proof of their allegations, for helping to orchestrate the federal investigation into the way the Morial Administration did business. The truth is, Nagin has cooperated with the feds -- which is his duty -- but he has hardly told the FBI or the U.S. Attorney what to do. On the contrary: had he done anything to impede their investigation, he would have been committing a crime himself. But such details apparently are lost on a group whose own slice of the patronage pie has been cut out.

According to the Entergy poll, the anti-Nagin preachers are as out of touch with the voters as they are with City Hall and the FBI. Then again, it's not easy to get the pulse of the people from inside a Rolls. Here are some of the poll's findings:

- Voters' impressions of Nagin -- 34 percent very positive, 36 percent somewhat positive, 13 percent somewhat negative, 12 percent very negative, and 5 percent don't know. That's 70 percent "positive" and only 25 percent "negative."

- Voters' impressions of Morial -- 21 percent very positive, 25 percent somewhat positive, 21 percent somewhat negative, 27 percent very negative, and 6 percent don't know. That's 46 percent "positive" and 48 percent "negative."

- Nagin's job performance -- 17 percent excellent, 40 percent good, 27 percent fair, 13 percent poor, and 3 percent don't know. That's 47 percent "positive" and 40 percent "negative." That's not a rave review, but the question about Nagin's re-election tells a happier tale for hizzoner.

- 54 percent say Nagin "deserves to be re-elected," while 31 percent say it's "time to elect someone else." Another 14 percent don't know. If the "don't know" respondents are factored out, Nagin's re-election favorability is 63.5 percent -- which is more than the landslide 59 percent he garnered in 2002.

The poll looked closely at the next mayor's race. Voters were given two sets of potential candidates and asked their preferences. Nagin led all his opponents combined each time.

The first question offered voters a long list of potential candidates and assumed a wide-open race. These were the responses:

- Nagin, 44 percent; Councilman Oliver Thomas, 9 percent; U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, 8 percent; Criminal Court Clerk Kimberly Williamson Butler, 7 percent; Civil Sheriff Paul Valteau, 4 percent; and Councilman Marlin Gusman, Civil Court Clerk Dale Atkins, and Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis, 3 percent each. Twenty percent offered no opinion.

The second mayoral heat eliminated Valteau (who probably will run for criminal sheriff) and Jefferson (who reportedly has already agreed to endorse Nagin). The outcome was not much different:

- Nagin, 45 percent; Thomas and Williamson Butler, 11 percent each; and Gusman, Atkins, and Willard-Lewis, 4 percent each. Again, 20 percent offered no opinion. The only real change is that Williamson Butler moved from fourth place into a tie for second with Thomas, who likewise gained a little from the absence of Jefferson and Valteau. But the big picture remains the same -- voters overwhelmingly prefer Nagin to any of the known potential challengers.

Finally, on the question of the federal investigation into Morial-era corruption, 35 percent strongly agree that the probe is being conducted in a fair and unbiased manner, and another 20 percent somewhat agree; 12 percent somewhat disagree with that notion, while 17 percent strongly disagree. Another 17 percent offered no opinion. That's a margin of 55 percent in support of the feds, with only 29 percent suspicious of the investigation.

Which leaves the mayor's clerical critics in a political quandary of Biblical proportions. They clearly don't like Nagin or his efforts to clean up City Hall, but voters clearly do. Worse yet, there appears to be no one on the horizon capable of mounting a serious challenge to Nagin. So what's their next move?

Maybe they'll attack the pollster. Oh, wait. Lee is African-American ... or does that matter in matters of race, religion, politics and patronage?

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