CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Less than two weeks after winning election as New Orleans’ next mayor, LaToya Cantrell is working to move past the rough-and-tumble campaign season and into the nuts and bolts of governance.
She and other new mayors from around the country spent three days this week at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, attending sessions on ways to promote innovation, tackle crime, find money for infrastructure projects and confront the opioid crisis.
Cantrell filled up several pages of a notebook with handwritten notes.
“I can’t carry the experience of the campaign — the false accusations and lies and hits on your family,” she said. “You have to let it go as you pivot and move toward governing as mayor, with the spirit of building community so you can advance the agenda of the people.”
Cantrell said she benefited from getting to know the 20 or so newly elected mayors, including several other female African-American mayors whom she bonded with over dinner.
“You learn you have other mayors you can call on, when you have questions about criminal justice, budget and finance, police or when tragedy strikes,” Cantrell said. “You learn you’re not in it alone. When you have these connections, it allows you to have a different perspective that’s focused on the greater good.”
But Cantrell isn't totally free of the accusations that dogged her campaign, now that Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has issued subpoenas as part of a formal investigation into the city councilwoman's credit card use.
An Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judge signed subpoenas Monday for credit card accounts that Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell has controll…
Her runoff opponent, Desiree Charbonnet, accused Cantrell of using city credit cards for personal expenses and campaign-related purchases. Cantrell reimbursed public coffers about $9,000 during her time in office — including a chunk just after she qualified to run for mayor — and said she had done nothing wrong.
“(The claims) have been in the public realm for a couple of months, thoroughly vetted by the media,” she said. “I don’t have any issues with the investigation — as long as it’s fair and just.”
Cantrell stands out in New Orleans because she will be the first female mayor in the city’s 300-year history. She stood out at Harvard because of the long transition period before she takes office in May.
Francis Suarez, the new mayor of Miami, took office this month just eight days after his election. Other new mayors have six weeks before taking the reins. Cantrell, on the other hand, will have a six-month gap before she takes office.
Suarez said the lengthy transition could create an awkward situation between incumbent Mitch Landrieu and Cantrell. “That dynamic will play itself out,” he said.
Cantrell, for her part, said she and Landrieu are working to have a seamless transfer of power.
“The citizens of the city deserve that,” she said. “It’s not looking to be adversarial.”
Cantrell had lunch Tuesday with several Kennedy School professors who helped her when she was an activist after Hurricane Katrina scrambling to head off a plan that called for turning her Broadmoor neighborhood into green space. Broadmoor, where Cantrell continues to live, is a thriving neighborhood today.
Henry Lee, one of the professors, said he would drop everything and help her again if asked.
“People want to work with her and be part of what she’s trying to do," Lee said. "She took a neighborhood devastated by the flood and inspired them to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and recover. She understands the frustrations that people have with government not listening to their concerns. She has real leadership qualities.”