cantrellcharbonnet.101417

Mayoral candidates Desiree Charbonnet and LaToya Cantrell sparred face to face for the first time Monday night over the Charbonnet campaign’s allegation that Cantrell used her city credit card for personal charges.

The credit card issue has consumed the campaign for the last week, since Charbonnet’s campaign first claimed that $8,950 in reimbursements Cantrell made to the city for charges on the card amounted to an admission that she had been using it for personal purchases.

Cantrell’s campaign has said those reimbursements were essentially housekeeping to pay back charges that she later decided should have been made on personal or campaign accounts.

The forum, sponsored by the AARP and moderated by former WWL-TV news anchor Dennis Woltering, kicked off with questions from Woltering about the issue. But things got particularly personal during a segment where the candidates were able to question each other.

Cantrell, a city councilwoman, took the chance to bring the issue up again.

“I guess the question I will ask at this point is, 'Ma’am, how could you, a former judge, manipulate public documents and submit it as fact to agencies around New Orleans?' ” Cantrell asked. “How could you do that and lie about it?”

“Oh, I’m not the liar here,” Charbonnet said. “I have not personally touched your documents. I have not submitted your documents to any public agency. They’re a part of your record, ma’am, and your record speaks for itself.”

Cantrell’s claim of manipulation is apparently based on the fact that the report sent by Charbonnet’s campaign to news outlets last week included handwritten notes on some of the public records it contained. It also included spreadsheets tallying up some of the charges.

“They were misrepresenting the facts,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell’s campaign has not previously disputed the veracity of the documents in the package. The documents themselves match public records independently verified by The New Orleans Advocate.

The two then had a brief back-and-forth over a receipt from Reginelli’s pizzeria, which showed the purchase of multiple pizzas, soft drinks and several beers. Cantrell described that as an outreach event, but Charbonnet said city policy prohibits using public funds for alcohol.

“Beer is not outreach,” Charbonnet said.

“The city didn’t pay for that,” Cantrell said.

The receipt shows that two credit cards were used for the event. A significant portion of the check — more than the cost of the beers — was paid for on a credit card not billed to the city.

With that, it was Charbonnet’s turn to ask questions, and she took the opportunity to accuse Cantrell of using the credit cards to essentially float herself a loan that she could pay back with interest later.

Charbonnet, oddly, attempted to distance herself from the report on Cantrell's spending, saying it was her campaign and not herself who authored it.

“Don’t accuse me of writing that,” Charbonnet said. “I didn’t touch your documents at all. I didn’t send them to the media. The campaign did that.”

“That’s your campaign,” Cantrell said.

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.​