Katrina evacuees grill New Orleans mayor hopefuls By Jeffrey Jones Sat Apr 8, 9:14 PM ET NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Hurricane evacuees got a chance to grill New Orleans mayoral hopefuls on Saturday, quizzing them on their plans to bring back the more than half of the city's pre-Katrina population still in exile. Seven months after the storm triggered the flooding of 80 percent of the city, evacuees frustrated over still being unable to return represent the biggest unknown in the April 22 election. Proceedings for the top hopefuls were held at a New Orleans church, to where about 300 people were bussed in, and beamed to 2,000 evacuees across the country. Organizers said the event, which often took on the tone of a revival meeting with prayers and cheers, was one of few ways voters among about 250,000 displaced New Orleanians could find out candidates' positions on issues affecting them. "A lot of people have said they don't want to vote or they aren't concerned about voting because they don't know who's running," said Linda Jeffers, spokeswoman for the Industrial Areas Foundation's Katrina Survivors Network and an evacuee living in Houston. "This is the first opportunity that they have to weigh what every candidate, or at least the top candidates are going to do." Seven candidates, including incumbent Ray Nagin, were kept to short answers on key issues like restoring essential services to all neighborhoods and reopening schools. In total, 24 people are vying for mayor as reconstruction in the hotbed of jazz music and Creole cuisine plods along. In a departure from traditional debates, candidates often had to give yes or no answers to questions on whether to open more public land to temporary housing or force employers to pay higher wages. They were not allowed to criticize each other. Voters in the crippled and cash-strapped city face the critical choice of staying with Nagin's experience dealing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency or starting afresh with a new mayor as the June 1 start to the hurricane season looms. Some civil rights groups have attempted to delay the election, arguing that evacuees, the majority of whom are black, have fewer options for getting election information. A judge last month rejected the bid, however. Calls to set up out-of-state voting centers were also rejected -- evacuees must either return to Louisiana or post an absentee ballot.