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Cox GM Leads Race for Big Easy's Mayor

By the time the industry meets in New Orleans for this year's National Show, there could be a cable guy in the mayor's office.

Cox Communications of Louisiana vice president and general manager C. Ray Nagin topped a field of 15 mayoral candidates on Feb. 2 and is headed for a March 2 run-off.

Nagin received 38,174 votes, or 29 percent of ballots cast. The next highest finisher, police superintendent Richard Pennington, received 31,185 votes, or 23 percent, and will compete with Nagin in the election.

Both of the finalists are political neophytes, yet they defeated two city councilmen and a state senator. Incumbent Mayor Marc Morial tried unsuccessfully to change the city charter so he could seek a third term. He did not endorse a potential successor.

Nagin did attract the endorsement of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which called him "a natural leader, a businessman, a self-made success." The paper was also impressed that Nagin "loves the city enough to give up a better-paying job" at Cox.

The next mayor's salary will be $109,913, according to the mayor's office of communications.

Two alternative papers also endorsed Nagin.

Nagin, who did not respond to several requests for an interview last week, is on a leave of absence to pursue his political dream. Cox brought in Paul Cronin, an executive from the New England region, to run the system as interim manager.

Nagin will resign from Cox if he wins the mayoral election, "so we have mixed emotions" about his political bid, a company spokesman said. Cox said it would be sorry to lose an effective executive.

Nagin may be as famous locally for co-owning the New Orleans Brass, the local minor-league hockey team, as he is for running the cable system. But he also has received exposure on biweekly editions of the Cox local-access show In Focus.
He did not appear on the show while running for office.

Nagin's job afforded him community exposure and the income for a campaign war chest. According to the state Board of Ethics, his campaign funds came mostly from his own pockets.

But the job connection has also become fodder for charges by Nagin's opponent. Pennington is already running ads accusing Nagin of moving Cox jobs from New Orleans to other Louisiana communities, according to local press accounts.

Should Nagin win the election, he would be required to recuse himself from contracts or other city business with Cox. That should not be a major problem, however, as Cox was granted a 15-year franchise renewal in 1995.