The mayoral race in beleaguered New Orleans has a candidate who is a true social justice advocate and progressive–Nation civil rights advocate James Perry. The New York Times has declared the race all but over–pushing a "white mayor in NOLA" storyline–and while it might be an uphill climb in this final stretch, it’s worth paying attention to Perry’s ideas and passions about a city he has worked hard to build and rebuild as a life-long resident.

Perry also happens to believe this race isn’t over. "We still have time left in the mayor’s race in New Orleans. The citizens haven’t spoken yet," he said. "The New York Times relied on polls that surveyed primarily white neighborhoods, and if you talk to people in low-income communities, they’re ready for something different."

Clearly, the still devastated city needs a leader who understands how to rebuild it–and rebuild it in a just way. Perry has been in the trenches running a civil rights non-profit called the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center which fights for affordable housing and equal housing opportunity. That’s a fight that makes Perry closely attuned to the most significant battles that lie ahead for the city’s next mayor.

"We are faced with a difficult choice regarding the future of one of America’s greatest cities," he said. "This great city can continue as a poster child for incompetence and corruption or be transformed into a national model for rebirth, rebuilding and renewed leadership. But we only achieve the latter by selecting a progressive Mayor who will make New Orleans safe by changing our philosophy on crime. We can’t arrest our way out of the problem. We must invest in our youth and stop using prison to address mental health and social service issues."

Indeed in one debate, some of Perry’s opponents proved that they didn’t know the difference between a jail and an after-school program.

Perry doesn’t shy away from the issue of race in New Orleans, even as he refuses to use it as a wedge issue. He writes: "We can choose to pretend that there is no racial problem. We can bury our heads in the sand and refuse to address the painful realities of racial differences in crime, education, housing, and employment…Or we can choose to courageously heal this painful divide, through open and accountable government, fair policies and procedures, broad community input, collaborative political efforts, and a determination to build a city that works for all her people."

He pledges that if elected Mayor, he won’t run for reelection unless he cuts the murder rate by 40 percent. He believes the high murder rate is the city’s most urgent issue. "There is murder after murder in New Orleans and I see the issue from where I live first hand," he said.

Perry’s "Road Map to a Safer New Orleans" includes strengthening partnerships between criminal justice, social service, mental health, and educational organizations to control crime; focusing limited resources on violent crime–not non-violent and municipal crime–and on the most dangerous youth and adult offenders; and implementing education and character development programs with high-risk youth in schools using proven evidence-based research methods.

He also supports "right of return" for homeowners as key to ending the shrinking of the city and rebuilding blighted housing stock. "We can’t conquer blight of our housing without bringing the people back," he told me.

Perry proposes "5 Actions in 5 Days" when he takes office, including: a national search to hire a new Superintendent for the New Orleans Police and a monthly "Crime Report Card" to evaluate public safety performance; the city government’s first Public-Private Partnership to implement a long-term economic development plan; and a revamped procurement system which reviews proposals in an open public process.

Perry has run a spirited grassroots campaign to take on the city’s wealthier, entrenched interests and the candidates who represent them. New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina deserves and needs a true social justice advocate at the helm. Check out Perry for yourself at www.JamesPerry2010.com. If you agree he’s the right leader for a great city, contribute to James Perry’s candidacy today.