(Adds comments from mayor to supporters)
By Kathy Finn
NEW ORLEANS, Feb 1 (Reuters) - New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu appeared headed for victory in his re-election bid on Saturday, with enough votes to avoid a runoff, the Times-Picayune newspaper and other local media projected.
Landrieu had 65 percent of the vote, well ahead of his nearest challenger, state court Judge Michael Bagneris, with 50 percent of precincts reporting, according to preliminary results from the website of the Louisiana secretary of state.
Landrieu needed more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election. The New Orleans Times Picayune, television station WVUE, a Fox affiliate, and television station WWL, a CBS affiliate, all projected that Landrieu was headed for victory.
Landrieu, 53, and scion of one of the state's pre-eminent Democratic political families, had built a strong base of support for his efforts to rebuild the city from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.
Landrieu addressed his jubilant supporters at his election night headquarters on Saturday.
"We have come a very, very long way together," Landrieu told the crowd.
The mayor was surrounded by his family, which included his sister, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, and his father, former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu.
"Elections are America's peaceful pathway to the future. They give full voice to the will of the people, and now the people of New Orleans have spoken again," Landrieu said.
Landrieu, heading into the election on Saturday, had been the frontrunner to win another four-year term on a record of helping the Crescent City rebuild itself from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
But his two African-American challengers said Landrieu had not done enough for the poor in the predominantly black city, and they accused the white mayor of not doing enough to help improvised communities recover from Katrina.
His main challenger, Bagneris, had been executive counsel to former Mayor Ernest "Dutch" Morial and is well known in the black political establishment.
The runoff election, if necessary, would be held on March 15. Voting ended at 8 p.m. CST (0200 GMT Sunday).
Boosted by massive federal aid, the city's population and economy have grown steadily under Landrieu.
Tourism, one of New Orleans' biggest industries, has made a striking recovery since Katrina hit in 2005, with visitor numbers in 2013 approaching a nine-year high.
The hurricane flooded 80 percent of the city, killed 1,500 people and caused $80 billion in damage.
The final candidate on the mayoral ballot is veteran civil rights lawyer Danatus King, who also is black. He has been running a distant third in political polls and was trailing in third place as results came in on Saturday.
Landrieu has also been seen in a more positive light due to the corruption trial that started this week for his predecessor, Ray Nagin. The former mayor is charged with receiving kickbacks from those seeking contracts to help the city rebuild from Katrina during his administration.
Voter frustration with Nagin helped Landrieu win in a landslide in 2010, which put the first white mayor in office in New Orleans since his father left that seat in 1978. (Reporting by Kathy Finn; Writing by Jon Herskovitz and Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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