Mitch Landrieu comes from one of New Orleans' most fabled political families. His father, Maurice "Moon" Landrieu, was a pioneering, pro-civil rights mayor from 1970 to 1978 (and later, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for former President Jimmy Carter). His older sister, Mary Landrieu, represents Louisiana in the U.S. Senate. But when Mitch ran for mayor in 1994, he suffered a bruising defeat -- losing to another dynast, Marc Morial, the son of New Orleans's first African-American mayor Ernest Morial. He lost again in 2006, in a hard-fought contest with Ray Nagin.

Earlier this year, Landrieu mounted a third mayoral run, and this time he won decisively. Since taking office in May, he has moved deftly, appointing a well-regarded new chief to head the troubled New Orleans Police Department and enacting new guidelines designed to introduce transparency into government contracting. With connections in Baton Rouge (where he served as a state representative and lieutenant governor for 16 years) and in Washington -- and the stirrings of progress in public safety and education -- Landrieu now has a unique opportunity "to be seen as the guy who turned around New Orleans," says LaPolitics Weekly publisher John Maginnis.

If he can do that, observers say, Landrieu would be well-positioned to do what no New Orleans mayor since 1879 has done -- return to Baton Rouge as governor.