Mar 5, 2024 - Politics

Cantrell faces eviction after refusing to turn over keys to city-owned apartment

Illustration of a graphic style key design as a match on fire.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A standoff between Mayor LaToya Cantrell and New Orleans City Council continued Monday.

Why it matters: City Councilman JP Morrell filed a motion Monday to pursue formal eviction proceedings against the mayor, according to his director of communications.

  • The move makes good on last week's threats demanding Cantrell turn over her keys or provide a move-out date by noon Monday, according to Fox 8.

The big picture: The Upper Pontalba apartment building was long used by New Orleans mayors for hosting parties or as a place to stay for visiting dignitaries and officials.

  • But after 2022 media reports began raising questions about how Cantrell used it, the apartment became a political chess piece on the board of City Hall.
  • Meanwhile, Cantrell has maintained that concerns over her apartment usage are personal attacks and that, as the city's first female mayor and a Black woman, she faces more intense scrutiny and has been held to different standards than her predecessors.

A statement released Monday night from the mayor's office said Cantrell is not "somehow holding up the process" of turning over the Upper Pontalba apartment.

  • Cantrell's media team did not respond to direct questions earlier Monday about whether she planned to turn over keys or provide a move-out date.

Flashback: The Upper Pontalba apartment building was built on the upriver side of Jackson Square in 1850. Its twin — the state-owned Lower Pontalba building — sits on the downriver side.

  • Philanthropists bought the Upper Pontalba in 1920, later transferring ownership to the city of New Orleans in 1930, according to a website for the building.
  • Five years later, as part of the Works Progress Administration projects, the building was transformed into 50 apartments.
  • One of those apartments was eventually reserved for use by the city's mayor, and the French Market Corp. operates the day-to-day building management on the city's behalf.

Catch up quick: The controversy began in the fall of 2022 when Fox 8 aired surveillance video raising questions about how much time Cantrell spent in the apartment, in particular highlighting hours spent with a member of her security detail, NOPD officer Jeffrey Vappie.

  • In 45 days' worth of surveillance video, Fox 8 reported, Cantrell spent time at the apartment on 35 of them, with Vappie visiting 47 times.
  • Shortly after that report, the police Public Integrity Bureau confirmed it was investigating Vappie's timesheets, | The Times-Picayune reported.
  • By January 2023, Vappie's wife alleged in a divorce petition that Cantrell and the NOPD officer were having an affair, Fox 8 reported, and the court filings indicated that the affair took place on dates when the pair were spotted on Upper Pontalba surveillance video aired by the TV station.

Two months later, the New Orleans Inspector General raised ethical concerns over the mayor's use of the apartment and recommended renting it out publicly instead.

  • That's when the tussle between City Council and the mayor really began.
  • By April, the Council voted unanimously to ban Cantrell and any future mayor from staying in the apartment overnight, according to | The Times-Picayune, but councilmembers went a step further later that summer, ending the mayor's use altogether.

The intrigue: In that motion, City Council directed the Cantrell administration to turn the apartment over to the French Market Corp. within 10 days so it could be rented out.

  • In the seven months since, Cantrell has maintained access to the apartment.
  • However, the mayor's communications team said late Monday that she has not used the apartment since before that vote, and called out "misinformation" being conveyed to the public.

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