People who want cities to succeed post-COVID should be heartened by the news out of New Orleans: a spunky, no-holds-barred movement to boot the second-term mayor, LaToya Cantrell, out of office.
The “No LaToya” recall campaign may be New Orleans’ last chance to avoid reaching a tipping point. It’s still missing 15% of its tourist jobs, and crime is rampant: A random attacker stabbed two people Saturday in the French Quarter.
The United States has had a bad time since 2020, but New Orleans has really had a bad time. This year, 203 people have been murdered, a third above last year and more than double the pre-COVID level.
The killings bring the murder rate to an unheard-of high. In a city with a population shy of 400,000, the current pace is an annual murder rate of 70 per 100,000, multiple times the national average.
Cops are deserting the force by the hundreds.
So if you were the mayor, what would you do?
This summer, as killings plagued every weekend, Cantrell took not one but two “work” trips: Switzerland and France. She splashed out — well, the taxpayer did — $30,000 for business- and first-class upgrades, despite city rules against it.
This absurd profligacy made national news — but it’s not primarily what the “No LaToya” movement is about.
Eileen Carter, a key recall organizer who worked for Cantrell’s administration as digital-media manager, has a 10-minute litany of Cantrell’s failings, from mismanagement of city funds to street lights that don’t work to streets that are one big pothole. “People can’t even drive down their street,” she tells me. “Our streets are absolutely terrible.”
The mayor, Carter points out, “went to the climate mayors’ event in Houston” recently and “talked about how she’s focused on infrastructure.” But “you can see the uncompleted projects” everywhere.
Clearly, though, crime is paramount. “You can just put that everywhere,” Carter says. “We are now the murder capital of the nation. People are scared in their houses by 7 p.m., especially women. . . . We have our neighbors, friends, brothers, cousins driving us to get gas.”
That’s why the reason Cantrell gave for upgrading to first class rankles. “She claims she has to fly in first class because she’s a black woman, for her safety,” Carter says, “when the black women in her city are dying.”
Then, too, Cantrell bizarrely sat with the family of a violent teen carjacker in a courtroom last month as the judge sentenced him to probation.
People not familiar with New Orleans will say that though it’s not an amazing look to jet off to Europe when your city is quaking in fear and support a gun criminal in court rather than his crying victims, you can’t blame the mayor for the underlying woes: New Orleans is a poor city, awash in guns.
“That’s absolutely not true,” says Carter. “We had the lowest crime in 50 to 70 years” when Cantrell took office. “How do you go from the lowest literally to the highest?”
In modern times, two mayors — Marc Morial in the mid-1990s and Mitch Landrieu in the 2010s — cut violent crime sharply, with Morial slashing the murder rate by two-thirds, largely through community policing.
Cities with easy access to guns, like Houston and Atlanta, have much lower murder rates than New Orleans.
Crime goes up when the city has a mayor who doesn’t care. “The police aren’t leaving because of money,” Carter says. “They’re leaving because of the oppressive leadership and management.”
Cantrell claims the recall movement is a racist, sexist, Fox News conspiracy. But this is a grassroots recall, racially diverse. “I’m a black woman, just like her,” says Carter. “The black women in the city of New Orleans are over it.”
Rather than “divide and conquer,” the recall is uniting people: “independents, no party, Democrats, Republicans, uptown, downtown.”
The recall has a tough task. Volunteers have until February to gather signatures from 20% of the population. But a poll shows more than half of voters support it.
The effort is giving people something missing: energy. Volunteers host signing parties. “We really feel, like, hope,” says Carter. “It’s really been kind of like Mardi Gras.”
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.