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New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell speaks during the Power Rising Conference at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans, Friday, Feb. 22, 2019.

When a New Orleans mayor does something that sparks memories of former mayor Ray Nagin, it can’t be a good thing.

So Mayor LaToya Cantrell might want to think again the next time she accuses a news outlet of trying to hurt the city.

Cantrell claimed Tuesday that The New Orleans Advocate was somehow derelict in reporting that the struggling Sewerage & Water Board may be owed as much as $134 million in unpaid charges since 2016.

To be clear, that figure was compiled from S&WB data by City Councilman Joe Giarrusso’s staff and discussed during a public meeting. Neither Cantrell nor water board officials immediately disputed that it could be accurate. Still, the publication of the estimate got the mayor’s goat, at a time when she’s negotiating with business and state leaders to redirect some of the tax revenue that now goes to tourism into infrastructure.

“What do you want to do, screw the city?” Cantrell asked in a phone call to Advocate reporter Jeff Adelson after he posted an online story. “Is that what you want?”

“Who’s doing the work trying to get the money we need? Me,” she said. “It’s for the city. And it’s just that serious. You can play games if you want, but this is not the one. It’s not it.”

Of course Cantrell is not Nagin, who once accused then-WWL-TV reporter Lee Zurik, who was investigating a corrupt program ostensibly aimed at remediating blight, of being against the city’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina. The information Giarrusso offered does not hint at any criminality. Nor does it point to poor management that suddenly developed on Cantrell’s watch. The board’s problems, including with its billing operations, are long-running and systemic.

And the press isn’t playing “games” by reporting it. It’s doing its job, which is to share the best available with the public.

That’s true whether it makes the people in charge look good, or not.


Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.