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Mayor LaToya Cantrell and representatives from the police department, fire department, EMS, Louisiana State Police, the FBI and Homeland Security hold a press conference updating residents on public safety preparations before the height of Carnival season in New Orleans, La., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.

On May 7, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell will mark the end of her first year in office. Depending on how things go between now and then, she could have quite a bit for show for it.

Two of Cantrell’s major funding priorities are currently in play, and while both are complicated, there’s a real chance that she’ll get some if not all of what she’s seeking.

First up is Cantrell’s quest to claim some money that currently goes toward tourism and use it for badly needed city infrastructure improvements, particularly those under the troubled Sewerage & Water Board. She probably has most voters on her side, but the fight pits her against the city’s dominant industry and a state Legislature that generally doesn’t jump when New Orleans’ mayors ask it to. So word that negotiations are going pretty well hints at a real breakthrough, particularly given where both sides started off.

Cantrell first broached the idea in public, but key players such as Gov. John Bel Edwards and Senate President John Alario showed little inclination to go along. Stephen Perry, president and chief executive officer of New Orleans & Co., pushed back too, at one point suggesting the city’s track record showed that it couldn’t be trusted to spend more money well.

Still, Cantrell’s public campaign started a conversation, and The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reported that both tourism leaders and Edwards, who will need a strong showing out of Democratic New Orleans in his fall re-election bid, are trying to work something out.

One working group formed by the mayor and the governor and another composed of business leaders are “zeroing in on sources of money that could help address the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board’s immediate and long-term spending needs,” Bridges wrote. They could have something to announce by the end of the month, before the annual legislative session begins. Any agreement would likely meet some but not all of Cantrell’s demands.

The mayor’s other outstanding request will soon be in the hands of voters. She’s strongly backing a proposal to renew and redirect some property tax money for recreation toward the Audubon Commission, City Park, and the city’s recreation commission and parks and parkways department. This wouldn’t be a tax increase, which is one reason to believe it could succeed.

It also marks an admission of sorts that Audubon blew it when it prematurely sought a 50-year renewal a few years back, only to be roundly rejected at the ballot box. The new proposal, which will appear on the May 4 ballot, has the commission give up some of its existing take, and City Park, which currently doesn’t receive any money from property taxes, finally getting some public support.

Still, passage isn’t a shoo-in. New Orleans voters have shown a good bit of skepticism toward millage requests in recent years, and there’s another tax proposal on an earlier ballot March 30. This one, passed by the City Council and opposed by Cantrell, would raise taxes to support the Council on Aging’s activities. It could also create confusion and add to any tax fatigue that’s already out there.

If Cantrell succeeds on both of these fronts, it would be more than a personal victory. It would also validate her particular political approach.

Cantrell served on the City Council before winning the mayor’s office, but the insider’s game hasn’t always been her strong suit. And indeed, both of these campaigns started off as adversarial, with the tourism industry and state officials on the other side in one case, and the City Council on a different page in another.

Cantrell excels, though, in building the outside case. It showed in her decisive victory over Desiree Charbonnet, who had the support of many established political figures. And if she has a good spring, it will prove that this is one strategy that translates from campaigning to governing.


Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.