New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell fought the city’s powerful hotel industry to gain more control over local tourism taxes paid chiefly by visitors. The mayor contends that tourism agencies are relatively well-funded in comparison to city departments, and she won some important concessions.
So it was disappointing to see the mayor tap into some of those hard-won dollars in another phase of her crusade against Lauren Daigle.
Daigle earned the mayor’s ire by singing at an unpermitted French Quarter event that violated New Orleans’ restrictions on large crowds. Sean Feucht, a Christian activist and musician who has staged events around the country to challenge coronavirus restrictions, organized the gathering on Decatur Street. And while we bow to no one in supporting the right to worship, we sympathize with unemployed musicians and other performers who wonder why Feucht and Daigle couldn’t live by the same rules as everyone else.
The mayor demanded that Daigle not be included in a taxpayer-subsidized New Year’s eve broadcast on ABC.
Daigle said she had not been invited to participate in Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who had been pushing for Daigle to appear, yanked a half-million-dollar subsidy for the event.
Louisiana taxpayers have helped fund the broadcast in past years in an effort to brand New Orleans as the place to celebrate New Year’s in the Central time zone, making the French Quarter into the Times Square of the South.
Maybe that made sense in the past, but 2020 is an unusual year and local governments are hurting. Much as we will welcome the end of 2020, the subsidy to celebrate the conclusion of our annus horribilis seems discordant.
But at a board meeting of the New Orleans Tourism and Cultural Fund, Cantrell’s administration and appointees on the panel said that funding the local part of the national broadcast was an important way of highlighting the city.
City Council member Kristin Gisleson Palmer argued the money would be better spent assisting local artists.
“This sounds to me like it's $500,000 for four minutes during a period when our artists are out of work and I feel like this is not what this fund was created for," she said.
"In a time of COVID-19, the optics of this are not what we’re trying to do with this fund,” she added, but she was voted down by the five-person panel.
Arguing for the spending, Director of the Office of Cultural Economy Lisa Alexis said the broadcast will highlight the city’s first responders and show the world that “New Orleans is leading in COVID-19 safety measures.”
But visitors will judge the city based on vaccine deployment and infection statistics, not an infomercial that will be months old by the time coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
This charade is really about the mayor’s tiff with Lauren Daigle, and LaToya Cantrell needs to do her taxpayers a favor and give it a rest.