Critics of Mayor LaToya Cantrell have been having a field day recently with multiple incidents about which to complain. Yet it seems no matter how much venom is directed toward her, Cantrell manages to adroitly deflect every accusation like a sizzling fried egg sliding off a Teflon-coated pan.
Case in point: U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan is demanding answers about the Public Integrity Bureau’s shoddy investigation of NOPD officer and Cantrell bodyguard Jeffrey Vappie. The good judge must know that it’s Cantrell who wields the big stick at the NOPD. Other than to extend the consent decree even longer, what recourse does the judge actually have? Cantrell has already refused to allow her staff appear in Morgan’s courtroom.
A long-awaited investigation by lawyers working for the City Council concluded that the informational mailer that Cantrell authorized during the recall campaign probably violated state law. For Cantrell, the mailer had its desired effect — defeating the recall. If by some unlikely chance she is forced to pay a fine, chalk it up to the cost of staying in office for several more years.
Teenagers often find it difficult to land summer jobs with decent pay. Thankfully, Mayor Cantrell’s administration sponsored a robust summer jobs program. Now we learn the teens have yet to be paid, allegedly due to glitches in the payroll system. With Orleans Parish schools beginning next week, most kids probably know how they will spend their precious summer earnings. Unfortunately, they have no choice but to wait longer to get their hands on the cash. A private sector business would never be allowed such a grace period.
Many leaders around the city believe that the recruitment process for the new NOPD superintendent has been less than transparent. On behalf of concerned constituents, City Council Vice President Helena Moreno has been making public demands for information that should be addressed. A showdown between the administration and the council could occur if interim Superintendent Michelle Woodfork is presented for confirmation without any additional due diligence.
Some critics liken the NOPD to the Titanic. Both were going full steam until they hit immovable objects. Like many other urban police departments, the NOPD is experiencing tremendous shortages in manpower. This problem began before Cantrell became mayor, but her administration did not immediately prioritize NOPD recruitment, retention and pay raises. Today’s NOPD staffing issues and the corresponding crime wave can be attributed in part to those early decisions.
On Cantrell’s watch, funding for the NOPD officers’ retirement system has gone to hell in a hand basket. Perhaps the administration was not paying enough close attention as the crisis developed. Now it can no longer be ignored.
Mayor Cantrell was caught on video entering the city-owned Pontalba apartment building with two women late one night during the Essence Music Festival and did not emerge for hours. Could those two women have been Cantrell’s sisters, who were being escorted around the city by the NOPD? Cantrell continues to defy the City Council preference on how the apartment should be used. She is smart to frame the issue globally as one that will affect every future mayor. Cantrell also has full use of Gallier Hall. The third floor rooms are especially cozy. Perhaps they could be converted to meet the mayor’s needs. Nothing short of returning the city’s Pontalba apartment to commerce will keep Cantrell away from that special place.
Why does Cantrell appear to reign victorious in most every battle? Because the New Orleans City Charter was designed to place the majority of power with the executive rather than the legislative branch. The city’s founding fathers, in the interest of retaining power, devised a stronger mayor/weaker council form of government.
Cantrell will be in office until Jan. 12, 2026. We can expect to see less and less of her as her term winds down. In his last years as mayor, Mayor Mitch Landrieu wrote a book, campaigned for Hillary Clinton, envisioned the concept for a nonprofit and generally planned for his future beyond City Hall. Seems like Landrieu has done pretty well for himself. Marc Morial became the head of the National Urban League. Sidney Barthelemy became the rainmaker at HRI Properties. Moon Landrieu became HUD Secretary under President Jimmy Carter. Dutch Morial was contemplating a race for the U.S. Senate when he died.
Cantrell travels far and wide because it’s a cheap (for her, not the city) and easy way to bond with national and international leaders and build lasting relationships around the globe. She has positioned herself as an expert on disaster planning and rebuilding. She speaks about resiliency and the effects of climate change — topics every political leader and corporate executive should be studying these days. Through these valuable relationships and the lessons learned from New Orleans disasters, Cantrell could become a tremendous asset to the right organization. It’s what every mayor strives to do in their next life.
Many New Orleans residents and business leaders are angry and frightened. New Orleanians of all races, ethnicities and income levels are saying they believe their beloved city is moving in the wrong direction. Those who feel better bashing Cantrell on a regular basis should just keep bashing her. The rest should focus attention on how to best use the few police officers the city has available, how to improve the graduation rate at local high schools, and how to create new jobs and expand the economy beyond tourism. Everything else is just a waste of time and energy.
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 former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, former 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. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.</em