Oct 3, 2023 - Politics

Mayor Cantrell's scandals, explained

Photo illustration of LaToya Cantrell with lines radiating from her.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

Mayor LaToya Cantrell has been dogged by scandals since she was elected in 2018.

Why it matters: The Democrat says many of the controversies are Republican-led attacks because she is a Black woman, the first one to hold the mayoral office in the city.

  • Her critics disagree.

State of play: Here's a look back at some of the bumps during her tenure so far.

  • She has spoken about most of these issues at press conferences.

Recall efforts: Residents launched an effort to recall Cantrell last year that ultimately failed in March when organizers were not able to get enough valid signatures.

  • During the recall, her spokesman, Gregory Joseph, sent taxpayer-funded pamphlets that the City Council says violated city policy. Joseph goes before the City Council on Tuesday where they will decide whether to fire him.

Alleged affair: Cantrell and her bodyguard, NOPD officer Jeffrey Vappie, had an affair, according to accusations by Vappie's wife in divorce filings.

  • Cantrell and Vappie have both denied the allegations, including in a colorful text exchange she had with a reporter in January.

Pontalba apartment: The city owns an apartment in the Upper Pontalba building in Jackson Square that has been used by mayors for years.

  • Cantrell's use of it came under scrutiny when surveillance footage showed the mayor visiting the apartment, sometimes with Vappie.
  • In March, the city's inspector general recommended the city relinquish the apartment and rent it to the public. And after a tussle with the mayor and the City Council, that happened in August.

First-class travel: Cantrell's international travel has sparked criticism that eventually led to her repaying the city nearly $29,000 she spent on upgrades like first-class airfare to France last year.

  • She shot down the criticism at the time. "Anyone who wants to question how I protect myself just doesn't understand the world Black women walk in," she said during a media briefing.
  • This year, she has been on at least two international trips: South Korea and France. The trip to South Korea cost more than $30,000 and included first-class and business-class upgrades.
  • The mayor's office declined to release financial details about the recent France trip to Axios New Orleans. A public records request is pending.

Image consultant: FBI agents questioned retailers in 2022 related to Tanya Haynes, Cantrell's image consultant.

  • Cantrell's campaign has paid Haynes and her business more than $230,000, according to WWL.
  • At the time, the FBI and the acting U.S. attorney declined to comment about a possible investigation.

Forward Together: Cantrell started a nonprofit called Forward Together, but had to shut it down this year after the inspector general questioned two contracts that sent city money to her charity, WWL reports.

Smart Cities: A now-abandoned project to increase public internet access in New Orleans caused another scandal for Cantrell. A City Council investigation found evidence of potential contract-rigging, ethics violations and perjury by city officials, Verite reports.

  • Two of Cantrell's staffers were involved, but the Louisiana Ethics Board cleared the employees, Jonathan Rhodes and Christopher Wolff, of any violations.

Zoom out: Cantrell has also had several other big problems to deal with during her two terms, including the collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel, the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in violent crime, trash contract kerfuffles and the consent decree that governs the New Orleans Police Department.

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