Apr 252019
 

Mayor LaToya Cantrell rides in the  Zulu parade on Mardi Gras 2019. The tradition was started by Mayor Dutch Morial’s son, Mayor Marc Morial. (Zach Brien, UptownMessenger.com)

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Without really caring who she runs over along the way, Mayor LaToya Cantrell has been plowing through such issues as increasing revenues from traffic cameras and how to fund the city’s long neglected infrastructure. In watching her especially feisty style, I can’t help comparing Cantrell to one of my favorite mentors — former Mayor Dutch Morial.

By any standard, Morial was pugnacious and always ready to go to battle for causes he believed in – and there were many. The word “compromise” was often missing from his vocabulary. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it and would go to almost any means — including canceling Mardi Gras parades during the 1979 police strike — to reach his goals.

Fighting with the City Council? It’s part of the territory. Angering liberal white voters who initially helped elect him? No way around it. Demanding his senior staff work tirelessly? Consider it the price to pay for the opportunity to serve.

Dutch Morial made it acceptable to be a strong and outspoken mayor of color. He made it acceptable for women to lead and by becoming legislators, council members, judges and even mayor. In that respect, Morial was Cantrell’s mentor too.

Starting out as a neighborhood leader in Broadmoor, Cantrell was always ambitious. Immediately after Katrina, astute observers saw Cantrell rise up from behind that almost insurmountable pile of debris at Claiborne and Napoleon. She learned how to get things done in typical New Orleans style by connecting with national and local moneyed power-brokers. Those fortuitous relationships gave her the insight on working the political system and a new network of people she could tap. Playing politics well became the endgame.

During her years on the City Council, Cantrell’s progressive leanings began to show in the legislation she authored, including the smoking ban and naming New Orleans as a sanctuary city. She became a head-strong competitor and fierce risk-taker. Those traits have served her well, especially with younger, liberal voters.

Dutch Morial was a brilliant tactician. During his years as a civil rights leader, Morial built an inner circle of loyal, experienced advisers like Reynard Rochon and Jerome Glazer who helped shape and lead his agenda. He moved forward with bravado. Cantrell’s team lacks the depth of her predecessor but is forging a new path based on social media and cultural change.

Many members of Morial’s inner circle are either deceased or no longer active in city government. There is one political player who became powerful during the Morial years and has emerged in Cantrell’s brain trust — consultant Bob Tucker. Early in the mayor’s race, Tucker felt the vibe on the streets and chose Cantrell as his candidate. He remains a calm and steady voice in Cantrell’s small circle; he knows from experience how and when to push the envelope to maximize results.

The recent defeat of the senior services millage and the upcoming referendum for parks and recreation are two examples of Cantrell’s during the campaign. Both constituencies were courting support from all the candidates. Cantrell was the only candidate who declined to go along with the senior’s millage request. Yet she agreed to support a retooled parks proposal, which brought with it key opinion leaders and an expanded voter base.

An early congrats to the parks and recreation team leaders! The millage will pass with flying colors even though some naysayers believe Audubon Institute executive Ron Forman might use his millions to again attempt to develop the area known as “The Fly.” City Park will finally get some city funding, which is long overdue. Parkways will make our public spaces greener and better cared for. NORD will increase their programming, including for seniors. I doubt that will satisfy those who would have benefited from the additional Meals on Wheels or weekend transportation to senior centers. Many voters also might not realize that a tax for infrastructure is probably in the near future.

With floor leader Rep. Neil Abramson and the Bureau of Governmental Research by her side, Cantrell is pushing hard to redistribute tourism dollars. As currently written, the tax proposals will probably pass Louisiana’s Republican-dominated lower chamber but surely will get amended in the Senate. Like last year’s Harrah’s contract renewal debate, the proposal could pass or fail in conference committee on the last night of the session. That’s Cantrell-style politics at its best and worst.

FAIR HOUSING ACTION CENTER STORYTIME WILL FEATURE MAYOR CANTRELL

On Tuesday, April 30, Mayor LaToya Cantrell will provide a special reading of the book “The Fair Housing Five & the Haunted House,” as part of an ongoing effort to engage children and caregivers in a conversation about discrimination, civil rights and how they can make their communities more fair and welcoming for all. The reading is being sponsored by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and will be held at the East New Orleans Regional Library, 5641 Read Blvd.

ANTHONY JACKSON CONSIDERING RACE FOR HOUSE DISTRICT 100

Youth advocate Anthony Jackson, 22, could soon be announcing his candidate for House District 100 in New Orleans East. The seat is currently occupied by Rep. John Bagneris, who is expected to run for the State Senate. If elected, Jackson would be one of the legislature’s youngest members.

A senior at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, where he is majoring in criminal justice, Jackson is running because of a desire to “help push my community forward.” A New Orleans native who attended Brother Martin High School, Jackson resides in the eastern New Orleans’ Donna Villa subdivision. He was a former aide to Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn, previously interned at City Hall and Criminal District Court, and has volunteered in several campaigns. Jackson is a member of 100 Black Men and is a motivational speaker with the Silverback Society. He would like to start a nonprofit organization where teenage boys could learn financial literacy, everyday life skills and etiquette. Jackson’s motto for the nonprofit is “Come as a boy, leave as a man.” Jackson plans on running a grassroots campaign.

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 Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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