By Danae Columbus, opinion columnist
Many New Orleanians would agree that Mayor LaToya Cantrell is pugnacious, uncompromising and used to getting what she wants. She seemed set on launching a controversial project that was supposed to increase internet connectivity while making retired NBA player Magic Johnson and his partners even richer.
Her plans abruptly came to a halt when a skeptical City Council stepped in with a mountain of detailed questions that Cantrell and her staff fought and are finding extremely hard to avoid answering.
By the middle of their second term, most mayors are thinking about life after City Hall. Mayor Moon Landrieu quickly landed himself a Cabinet position under President Jimmy Carter. Mayor Dutch Morial began practicing law with an eye toward a U.S. Senate race, which was derailed due to his untimely death. Mayor Sidney Barthelemy nurtured relationships with elected officials for real estate developer HRI Properties. Mayor Marc Morial moved to New York to run the National Urban League. Mayor Mitch Landrieu started a nonprofit, became a CNN analyst and joined President Joe Biden’s administration. Mayor C. Ray Nagin leveraged his official position to feather the nest for his family — and ended up in a federal penitentiary.
Dutch Morial was never shy about introducing close friends and their business idea to mayors in other cities. Barthelemy helped clear a path for HRI to develop projects in other markets. Morial and Barthelemy were never accused of crossing the line while making those introductions.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors, of which Cantrell is an active member, has been a great place for her to network with mayors who might appreciate a glitzy star-studded program like Smart Cities. The first non-native New Orleanian to lead the city in modern times, Cantrell moved to New Orleans from California, where her mother still resides. Perhaps Cantrell has plans to return to her home state and continue her child’s education there.
During the coming weeks and months, a bright light will be shed on the Smart Cities program from a plethora of documents and testimony from current and former city officials. Only then might we know why Cantrell has put up such a fight.
REPLACING NOPD CHIEF SHAUN FERGUSON WON’T SOLVE THE CRIME PROBLEM
Late Wednesday afternoon (June 8), Mayor Cantrell felt compelled to issue a statement in support of NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson, whom many consider to be her closet ally. Cantrell appointed Ferguson as police commander in January 2019, a decision she unequivocally stands by.
“Chief Ferguson continues to have my unwavering support and trust as do all the women and men of the New Orleans Police Department. I have full confidence in Chef Ferguson’s leadership and in his plan to keep the residents of Orleans Parish safe. He is deserving of our respect and support,” Cantrell said.
Why did Cantrell have to say anything at all? After every shocking event like last Sunday’s multi-location speed racing, where it appears criminals ± rather than the police — are in charge, the voices of citizens who want a change in NOPD leadership grow louder.
They are becoming a chorus that continues to sing the same song. Though the chorus started out with a few law-abiding citizens who were tired of seeing their friends, neighbors, and loved ones become victims, now key decision makers in the community are adding in their voices. Those voices are also angry that Cantrell is often mum on crime, instead pushing Ferguson to take the heat. If she does comment on a particular incident, her remarks are often a day late and a dollar short and usually in writing instead of in person. There’s even grumbling that Cantrell considers some victims collateral damage. Perhaps New Orleans isn’t for everyone any more.
Citizens also don’t like that the Chief always appears to take the lead from the mayor. Whatever strategy she wants, he wants. As a skilled and experienced law enforcement professional, Ferguson should have knowledge about successful programs from other cities worth implementing in New Orleans. He should have studied best practices nationally to develop an effective recruiting/retention program and funding plan long before now. Being the mayor’s puppet inevitably puts him in the crosshairs with City Councilmembers, many of whom including Helena Moreno and J.P. Morrell have their own ideas on how to staff up the NOPD and make New Orleans safer.
Changing police department leadership won’t automatically mean that crime will decrease. Providing additional funding to the Police and Justice Foundation for recruitment is a smart step that will bring results. According to NOPD statistics, there are less than 1000 New Orleans police officers who could report to duty any given day. That does not include those on sick leave or vacation. The real number of ready-to-work officers could be closer to 900. They mostly patrol one officer per vehicle. Until New Orleans is able to hire and retain at least 400 additional officers, crime will continue to rise no matter who is the chief. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the courageous men and women of the NOPD who put their lives on the line every day. For their sake as well as ours, change couldn’t come to the NOPD fast enough.
MORRELL TOUTS LEGISLATIVE ACCOMPLISHMENTS WITH ORLEANS DELEGATION PARTNERS
Even though JP Morrell is no longer a state senator, he successfully worked with members of the Orleans Parish legislative delegation to pass several bills that ensured the quality of life here in New Orleans. “With the passage of these bills, our residents will now get much-needed relief from SWB billing, blighted properties and juvenile crime,” said Morrell.
Morrell also had the unanimous support of the other City Council members. Friends of Morrell will host a fundraiser in his honor Thursday evening (June 9) at Doris Metropolitan, 620 Charters Street.
MANDIE LANDRY TO KICK OFF STATE SENATE RACE FRIDAY NIGHT
Now that the regular session of the Louisiana Legislature has ended, District 91 State Rep. Mand
ie Landry is moving full steam ahead with her campaign to fill the State Senate District 5 seat that was vacated by Karen Carter Peterson earlier this spring. Landry will kick off her campaign Friday (June 10) at Nola Brewing Company, 3001 Tchoupitoulas Str., from 5 to 8 p.m. The venue is family-friendly.
Landry is pleased with the passage of five pieces of legislation she championed during the session including HB 988, which provides employment protection for people with a medical marijuana prescriptions. She was also instrumental in passing HB 1052, which created the Hazard Mitigation Loan Fund and is financed with federal dollars.
Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.