In the wake of Saturday’s results in the New Orleans mayoral primary, City Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell and former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet will face each other in a Nov. 18 run-off. Next month, the city’s voters will elect their first female mayor.

That means Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s successor will make history simply by taking the oath of office. But the next mayor’s success will ultimately be judged not by the symbolism of a broken glass ceiling, but substantive gains in the material progress of the city.

There is much work to do in advancing that mission, and at a time of division and deadlock in state and national politics, the next mayor’s role will be more important than ever. The corrosive climate in Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C. underscores what’s always been true. New Orleans will rise or fall on the merits of its own resolve and resourcefulness, not what happens in the halls of power beyond the city limits. That’s why leadership at City Hall is key.

Much is at stake in the coming four years — not only for New Orleans, but the larger region it has helped to define. The track records of other economically progressive states yield an abiding lesson. Regional economic prosperity hinges on the health of urban centers. As Georgia has grown because of Atlanta and North Carolina has flourished because of Charlotte, Louisiana’s future depends on a dynamic New Orleans to drive it forward.

The primary mayoral campaign unfolded in a season of deep distraction for voters, including a summer flood that damaged New Orleans homes, cars and businesses, prompting an ongoing debate about the condition and management of the city’s drainage system. The threat of Hurricane Nate, which eventually left the city largely untouched, also consumed public attention. Friday’s fatal shooting of a New Orleans police officer was a grim capstone to the campaign.

Perhaps the public would have been more focused on the mayor’s race if none of these things had happened. But we hope that events of the past few months inform the choice voters will make on Nov. 18. The headlines of summer and autumn amply demonstrate the problems that land on a mayor’s desk with sobering regularity. Those demands require a leader who can marshal the collective creativity of New Orleans to fulfill the city’s promise.

The obligations of leadership mean an obligation for voters, too. Now is the time for residents to pay attention, listen to the runoff candidates and cast an informed ballot on Nov. 18.