Louisiana 1st District
Founded in 1718 and the nation’s fifth largest city at the outbreak of the Civil War, New Orleans is ancient for an American metropolis. It is still closely girded by the peculiar wilderness of the mushy Delta lands of the sluggish Mississippi River. For decades, you could climb a levee overlooking the Mississippi and see an expanse of water with untidy clumps of trees and disorganized-looking, seemingly abandoned docks—what Mark Twain had in his mind’s eye while writing Life on the Mississippi in the 1870s. Drive just past the last block of a suburban subdivision and you were in unreclaimed swamp, vegetation thick with herons and alligators, flat as far as the eye could see. For years, the river funneled the products of half a continent down to a single port with an international heritage and flair. The New Orleans metropolitan area has lived off that geography and history, with an inward-looking elite preoccupied with who is in which Mardi Gras krewe and interested more in the genealogy of old families than in the geography of the Oil Patch. The old buildings of New Orleans are finely proportioned and its old neighborhoods charming, like those in France. Its early-20th-century improvements, like Olmstead’s City Park, were grand. But its late-20th-century streetscapes and subdivisions were without ornament or charm, utilitarian works that were part of an attempt to master the below-sea-level environment.
2008 Presidential Vote
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After Hurricane Katrina struck with Category Four force on Aug. 29, 2005, many of those details changed dramatically. The city’s population plummeted, housing stock was destroyed, some levees were breached and others were no longer reliable. The last act of nature to have wreaked so much damage on an American city was the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.
The 1st Congressional District of Louisiana encompasses some of the places hardest hit by Katrina, including much of the newer part of the New Orleans metropolitan area, spread over the soggy lands of the lower Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain. About half of its people live south of the lake in affluent white neighborhoods, in the Uptown area and west of City Park, and in mostly white neighborhoods on the West Bank of the Mississippi. The district takes in the vast suburb of Metairie in Jefferson Parish and also part of suburbanizing St. Charles Parish. The boundaries have been drawn so that the next-door 2nd District has an African-American majority; the black percentage in the 1st (13%) is the lowest of any Louisiana district. The 1st extends across the 26-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway to include St. Tammany Parish, with its old towns lush with trees and clusters of new growth around giant intersections. This has been the growth area of metropolitan New Orleans. The population of the city fell 7% between 1990 and 2004, and Jefferson Parish’s increased only 1%, while St. Tammany Parish’s population increased 40%. Those figures fluctuated by as much as 50,000 people after Katrina, but previous trends seem likely to continue. Nearly 75% of the homes in St. Tammany were damaged to some degree, but much of the parish, with the notable exception of Slidell, was spared from the worst effects. As a result, the neighborhoods of St. Tammany recovered more quickly, and many evacuees found their way to its higher ground in the ensuing months. The local real estate market surged, and the population grew by about 23% in the first year after Katrina. The 1st District also includes, to the north and west, Washington and Tangipahoa parishes, still mostly rural. But Tangipahoa, which developed in the 19th century along the rail line linking New Orleans and Chicago, grew by 7% in the two years after Katrina.
This is the most upscale, affluent, highly educated district in Louisiana, and by far the most Republican, supportive of political reformers and against economic redistribution. George W. Bush got 71% of the vote here in 2004, by far his best performance in the state. John McCain bested Barack Obama 76%-22% in St. Tammany, and took the district 73%-26%.