Dec 202018
Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Like many New Orleanians I appreciate Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s willingness to leave no stone unturned to fund many of the city’s critical infrastructure problems that former Mayor Landrieu didn’t adequately address. Obviously, it will take money for numerous sources to fill the gap.

Strong mayors have lots of tools at their disposal – including the media – to get their desires heard. But smart leaders know a little honey can go a long way. Keep your friends close and your perceived enemies closer. As a former grassroots organizer, Cantrell must realize that building support through numerous partnerships and artfully negotiated compromises is probably the best method to achieve long-term goals. Change is never quick or easy. So far, Mayor Cantrell is making her point but not making much progress.

As a former City Council member, Mayor Cantrell understood the funding plight the Council on Aging faces. She actively campaigned at senior centers. It should not have surprised her when the City Council proposed a “seniors” tax that will appear on the spring 2019 ballot. If she wanted to incorporate the Council on Aging’s funding needs with other youth and family or mental health issues, she could have signaled that plan during transition and found an ally on the council to lead the effort.

The tourism industry has fought long and hard to create a consistent funding stream to lure in convention and leisure visitors and create jobs. They also enjoy the full support of Gov. Edwards and Senate President John Alario. Industry leaders drive on the same potholed streets as the rest of us. Their streets and houses flood too. The city will get money from tourism faster if Mayor Cantrell wins over industry leaders through partnerships that work for all.

Also, it is never a good idea to be at odds with your local legislative delegation, especially your state senate president. Sources say that New Orleans legislators are still miffed by her choice of a floor leader that does not have a solid relationship with the city’s predominately African-American delegation. To be successful in Baton Rouge, Cantrell might want to change her approach and ask the governor, Alario and her legislators for their ideas rather than ask them to support her ideas.

Yesterday’s headlines regarding the value of that portion of LaSalle Street in what is now known as Champions Square is just her latest salvo. The Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District took a big financial risk when they created Champions Square on land that included an underutilized section of LaSalle Street. Today the City receives millions in sales tax from food and beverage sales from events held there. The state and the LSED have long wanted to resolve the LaSalle Street right-of-way issues. The mayor probably set up an unnecessary adversarial situation with the LSED during the sports industry’s busiest month of the year with the Sugar Bowl and sold-out Saints games.

Perhaps Mayor Cantrell should turn her focus on increasing property tax revenues from nonprofits and others who are currently not on the tax rolls. Perhaps she should take a statewide lead in increasing opportunities for funding through gaming revenues – more land-based casinos, legalized sports betting or gaming at the airport. Other cities and parishes across the state need new sources of funding as well. A forward-thinking mayor might want to meet with those leaders and see what items could become the basis for a long-term consensus agenda. Some of the measures might be possible to achieve if the legislation only became law after a local vote – such as the way fantasy football was approved.

Though Louisiana has been especially slow getting even medical marijuana off the ground, there are potential long-term funding revenues from that industry as well. State Senator Fred Mills was able to get the medical marijuana legislation finally approved only after he brokered a deal with the Sheriffs’ Association. In the long run, Mayor Cantrell will probably need all her local elected officials to work with their counterparts around the state to create the major new funding opportunities the city must have to keep moving forward.

Thanks, Mayor Cantrell, for your leadership and best wishes for a financially successful 2019!


The application period is now open for a new free Advocacy and Campaign Training Workshop (ACT) that will be held Feb. 8-9 at Harrah’s Hotel under the auspices of the Congressional Black Caucus Institute (CBCI) in partnership with the Walton Family Foundation. Outgoing Congressional Black Caucus chair Cedric Richmond ensured that New Orleans was included in this national program.

“We are targeting future leaders who are passionate about civic engagement and advocacy, including those interested in education policy and improving access to high quality educational opportunities for all Americans,” said Vanessa Griddine-Jones, CBCI executive director. Since 2003, the CBCI training workshops have armed future leaders with the expertise to succeed and impact all areas of civic engagement, from school board to national office. Democrats consider this kind of outreach critical in building a larger base of candidates and campaign staff for the 2020 elections and beyond.

Applications will be accepted now through Jan. 4. Accepted applicants will be notified on Jan. 11. Attendees who reside more than 50 miles from New Orleans will receive complimentary housing.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-elect Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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