After qualifying for the Feb. 1 city elections ended last week, LaToya Cantrell is the only member of the New Orleans City Council without a re-election battle on her hands.
With her first full four-year term ahead of her, Cantrell said this week that she can give all her focus to her priorities — blight and housing issues, crime and public safety, and, most immediately, revisions to the city’s Mardi Gras parade rules.
One of the biggest divides in this year’s contests may be candidates supported by the mayor or not, and last year in last year’s special election to the District B seat, Mitch Landrieu endorsed one of Cantrell’s opponents, Dana Kaplan. This year, even before qualifying, Landrieu said he would be supporting Cantrell, however, and no one else emerged to challenge her.
“I think we were able to build relationships, based on the fact that we were committed to doing the work,” Cantrell said. “Not having to deal with an election really empowers me in this office to stay focused on those things, to see them through.”
In the four-year term, Cantrell said she intends to be consistent in her priorities. She is a member of the council’s Housing and Human Needs committee, and intends to stay focused on issues relating to the city’s affordable housing needs. Part of that is continuing the fight against blight — during a budget meeting in August, Landrieu said Cantrell was on blight “like a dog on a bone,” a comment she has since adopted as a compliment — and she meets every two weeks with administration officials for updates on blighted buildings in District B.
Cantrell has also pushed for a review of the police department’s staffing levels, culminating in a hearing before the full council with NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas. One change that has been proposed is relaxing the department’s requirement that new officers live in the city, but Cantrell says she’s not ready to support that yet. The city is embarking on a new recruiting campaign, complete with “Get Behind the Badge” hiring banners at each district station, a new online application system and a marketing campaign, and she wants to see how that works first.
If recruits are still hard to come by after those efforts, it will prove the need to change the domicile rule, she said. But first, she said, “We need to do outreach in the parish. We haven’t really tried yet.”
Most immediately, Cantrell hopes to introduce her proposed revisions to the city’s Mardi Gras laws at this week’s Council meeting in time for the 2014 parades. Her staff was still working with the city’s legal team on last-minute adjustments to the ordinance on Monday, but she said the time is right.
“We have the krewes ready. They want to do it,” Cantrell said. “We’re all still in.”
Even so, she hopes to make reviewing those laws an annual occurrence, adjusting them each year through a working committee that will evaluate what worked and what needs improvement.
‘Let her finish’
Unlike other council races, political gossip never suggested potential challengers to Cantrell. Musician and entrepreneur Marlon “10th Ward Buck” Horton had said he wanted to run against her again, but said that after Cantrell’s husband represented him on citations stemming from a block party at his former restaurant, he decided not to challenge her.
After so many people had urged him to run, Horton said he was “very surprised” that no one else signed up to challenger Cantrell. On the other hand, Horton said Cantrell had represented District B well.
“I wanted to let her finish what she’s started,” Horton said. “I’m pretty sure she’ll do a good job.”
Horton has moved out of his old business on Jackson Avenue, and the building is slated to become a barbecue restaurant. He said an investor has expressed interest in his reopening Finger Lick’n Wings on Magazine Street, and that he definitely plans to run for office again — on Twitter, his avatar is still a photo from his last campaign.