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Mayor LaToya Cantrell holds a bike bell as she speaks at Bike to Work day in New Orleans on Wednesday, April 10, 2019.

It cannot be said that LaToya Cantrell was elected mayor of New Orleans just because voters believed she would get rid of traffic cameras, but her stance sure was wildly popular.

Cantrell is hardly the first politician to abandon her principles on election, or to resort to dirty tricks. But it requires a special talent to do both at the same time.

Citizens loved to revile Cantrell's predecessor, Mitch Landrieu, for many reasons, but prominent among them was his faith in the camera network, which he significantly expanded. The official pretext — that hizzorer was out to enhance public safety — was widely pooh-poohed. Conventional wisdom was that the idea was to fill the city coffers with cash extracted from drivers, mostly for mere peccadilloes.

That theory got a boost when the Landrieu administration added 55 new cameras in 2017, more or less doubling the total, and the press reported that the city had never conducted a study of their impact on public safety.

The city promptly commissioned one, reaching the less-then-astounding conclusion that cameras did indeed mean fewer accidents. That ticketing speeders makes the streets safer is a proposition that had common sense on its side.

Then-mayoral candidate Cantrell remained unconvinced, however, and refused to back off from the notion that the city could shed the cameras entirely. She said she had “some concerns about the data” cited in the study, and needed to know more. “That way we can determine which cameras, if any, can stay and which ones should be removed.”

The question was left hanging when she took office last year, inheriting a budget that included $25 million in camera-generated revenues. So much for campaign promises. Renouncing that kind of money proved too much of a challenge.

Cantrell did, however, agree to sacrifice around $4 million a year by yanking cameras that were not inside school zones. Those that were inside the zones would not operate when school was out. The rationale for that policy might fairly be questioned by anyone hit by a speeding car in a regular neighborhood, but, outside government budget circles, the photographic enforcement of traffic laws is not a popular cause, even when it's fair and above the board.

When it is not, as the City Council has been forcefully reminding the Cantrell administration, resentment knows no bounds.

Under Landrieu the rules were clear; everyone knew no fines would be imposed on drivers who were snapped slightly above the official limit. Thus, you could do 26 mph in a school zone and exceed the speed limit elsewhere by 10 mph. The Cantrell administration last month surreptitiously changed those numbers to 24 and eight, and drivers who had meticulously adhered to the advertised rules were soon finding pricey tickets in the mail.

This was as dumb as it was unfair, and extremely odd behavior for an elected official, since it obviously wouldn't take long for her constituents to realize they had been hornswoggled and begin reviling Cantrell much as they used to revile Landrieu. Given her earlier doubts as to whether cameras make the streets safer, her flack's reasons for the slight reduction in the speeds that trigger a fine seemed somewhat disingenuous: he cited “external studies that closely link vehicle speeds and fatality rates.”

Since the public was already convinced that the cameras are strictly a revenue-raising scam, nobody was going to believe that safety was the real motive even before a public records request revealed that the administration had commissioned an analysis of how much moolah the rules change would produce. The answer was up to $7.5 million a year, which would make the loss of the cameras outside school zones much easier to bear.

Cantrell sure has come a long way since campaigning against traffic cameras in what now appears to have been no more than a populist pose. Once confronted with the exigencies of office, she proved every bit as money-hungry as Landrieu, and much more devious.

Correction: Thursday's column said Harrah's employed 21 lobbyists to get the lease renewal for its New Orleans casino past the state House of Representatives.  Dan Real, regional president of Caesars Entertainment, says only one lobbyist was hired to help him and another company office manage the bill at that stage.  More lobbyists were added later, but no more than 12 were working at any one time, Real said.

Email James Gill at Gill1407@bellsouth.net.