When the votes were tallied Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans had become chairman-elect of the influential Congressional Black Caucus, giving him an important role in shaping the political agenda for black Americans at a time of heated debate over race relations and serious electoral setbacks for the Democratic Party.    

The mostly Democratic group, which elected its officers by secret ballot, is a large voting bloc in the Republican-controlled U.S. House. 

“I’m honored and humbled by the confidence my colleagues have placed in me to serve as the chair of this revered caucus, the conscience and intellect of the Congress,” Richmond said.

Richmond won out over at least one challenger, Rep. Yvette Clarke of New York. 

He will replace Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat, when the 115th Congress is seated in January. That Congress will see the largest Black Caucus in history, at 49 members. 

Richmond's election gives Louisiana a more prominent voice on Capitol Hill. The state's most powerful official in Congress is Rep. Steve Scalise, the Republican from Jefferson Parish who serves as House majority whip. But Richmond's new title puts him at the head of a caucus that has a considerable role in setting Democratic priorities. 

It's also a personal point of pride for Richmond, who through his win achieved what had long eluded one of his predecessors. Former Rep. Bill Jefferson, the first black congressman from Louisiana since the end of Reconstruction, ran for the job but lost to Rep. Maxine Waters in 1996, long before he was disgraced by public corruption charges.

Before Thanksgiving, Richmond had talked about running for chairman, but he didn’t make a formal announcement until after a discussion with his family over the holidays.

Richmond has said Donald Trump’s Nov. 8 election as president prompted him to look seriously at a leadership role.

His official bid also came a day after his criticism of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi became public. Pelosi, of California, is looking to restructure the Democratic leadership in the House to bring in some fresh blood, but Richmond said her plan was too radical.

Pelosi herself also won re-election on Wednesday, beating back a challenge from long-shot candidate Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio.

As caucus chairman, Richmond has said, he wants to advance criminal justice reform, improve economic opportunities for the disadvantaged and protect voting rights.

Butterfield, the outgoing chairman, praised Richmond on Wednesday.

"We have much work ahead of us during the 115th Congress, and I am confident Rep. Richmond will provide strong leadership on the issues we champion to ensure all Americans have an equal and equitable opportunity to achieve the American dream," he said.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who endorsed Richmond in his original bid for Congress, also offered congratulations.

"This is more good news for our city," Landrieu said, adding that he looks forward to partnering with Richmond and Scalise to improve the city. 

Richmond serves on the House Judiciary Committee and Homeland Security Committee. His predominantly African-American 2nd Congressional District stretches from New Orleans East up the Mississippi River to the neighborhoods of north Baton Rouge.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.