Latoya Cantrell Makes History as First Female Mayor of New Orleans

By Edwin Buggage

An Historic Day in New Orleans

On May 7, 2018 history was made as New Orleans inaugurated its First Female Mayor LaToya Cantrell. Data News Weekly had the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview the new mayor on the eve of her big day about her feelings of being elected mayor and her vision for the City. In addition, Data News Weekly attended Cantrell’s swearing in and the Mayor’s Ball later than night.

Reflections from Mayor LaToya Cantrell

As she speaks to Data News Weekly Cantrell’s voice reflects excitement but also a keen awareness and insight as she considers the weight of the office she will be occupying. As opposed to her previous posts the importance and impact of her vision and decisions will be magnified exponentially and will help steer the City’s direction moving forward.

Known for being a person of the people her campaigns have always been bottoms up operations that were less about fundraising and more centered on bringing together people from different backgrounds, around common interests and being a bridge builder. This style of leadership is something she wants to bring to City Hall, “This movement we’ve built it is not about me it is about we; all of the citizens working together to move the City forward,” says Cantrell.

Her ascendance to the City’s highest office is inspiring people not just across the City, but the nation. She is the embodiment of an age where women are reaching new heights of excellence; Cantrell manifests the best of the spirit showing that with hard work, perseverance and a can-do attitude, your dreams can become a reality.

“I am feeling very inspired by the residents of our City who have displayed so much hope in what we have built together,” says Cantrell of the coalition that led to her being elected the First Female Mayor of New Orleans. “It is an awesome responsibility to try to balance expectations thinking about that; but I am hopeful we will move forward together in a way that can impact all neighborhoods and all of the citizens of our City in a positive way. That is the main goal of my administration.”

A New Day for New Orleans

Her Inaugural Address was emotion filled, at times, as she surveyed the to-capacity crowd where former mayors, elected officials, family and friends and supports came out to witness and support her on this historic day. Some wept visibly proud and overwhelmed that the City elected its first female mayor. That the City had overcome and torn down another barrier and that they were witnessing the dawning of a new age.

Her voice ringing in a triumphant tone Cantrell said, “We broke every kind of glass ceiling and color line and old outdated rule about who the mayor is supposed to be.” And anyone familiar with the history of New Orleans where issues of race, privilege and colorism among Blacks were often determining factors of who should lead the City.” She addressed this issue head on as well saying, “What we have done in this election is we have changed people’s ideas about what the mayor is supposed to look like or where he was supposed to be born,” proclaimed Cantrell who came from Los Angeles to New Orleans as a student attending Xavier University and since then has made this her home building her career and family in the Crescent City.

The Business of Governing

While the excitement around Cantrell’s election is understandable; the larger question for the City is how it will be governed and what policies will be put in place to make the City safer and create more routes to the middle-class for the citizens of New Orleans.

Speaking of the goals for her first 100 days she says, “The first days will be about getting my staff acclimated to City Hall. I am also looking at other areas, whether it is contracts that have not been signed yet; there are a great deal of contracts that are waiting for my review and signature. But my first order of business is getting with Chief Harrison in the area of public safety and I also want to look at infrastructure and just more generally setting the expectation and vision for the City, so we can begin to go to work and get things done.”

Under the Nagin and Landrieu Administrations post-Katrina, the City has changed in radical ways. It can be argued that some of them good while others threaten the life blood of the City, its identity and its most vulnerable residents. Cantrell, who in her work as a leader in her Broadmoor neighborhood, worked hard to bring back a neighborhood that was slated to become green space. Today, it is a thriving community comprised of people from all backgrounds. It is one of the success stories of a City where the best of pre-Katrina and the surge of post-Katrina changes co-exist.

Building on that model she says, “I want to make sure that we are a City that is open to all. That really does not work until we address the disparities that exist in our City. I plan to be very intentional and inclusive in initiatives of how we deliver services to the residents of the City of New Orleans. In terms of my administration it is to erase barriers and disparities that’s held back so many of our families here in New Orleans.”

Forward Together

The reality for most politicians is that no matter how optimistic are altruistic they may be in their intent; the sad reality is that getting things done once elected is easier said than done. But spending time as a community leader, member of the City Council and now Mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell realizes this sobering fact regarding policymaking. “We are in this together and there is no magic wand that’s going to fix everything that is wrong with our City.” Echoing what has become her clarion call to the citizens of New Orleans she says, “It is not about me it is about we, so I want to build the City and unify the communities, and that leads us to improving the quality of life for everybody so that everybody can win.”

Today is the beginning of a new era for the City as it moves forward. The question remains, who will thrive in this City, this great cultural jewel that lies on the mouth of the Mississippi? And, can this, a City that has taken a giant step forward become a City that no longer has two tales? Can we overcome the dichotomy of a few who have plenty and too large a number of those have not enough or nothing at all? Can a City where stately mansions exist only a stone’s throw away from crime, violence and social chaos, and where unlimited opportunities and hopeless can co-exist, turn the page and become a welcoming place where all can flourish?

Only time will tell whether the new Mayor LaToya Cantrell can help steer the City in the right direction. And while it is important to have strong leadership, there must be a commitment at all levels by not only wanting but working to make New Orleans the great City it has the potential to be. It will take all of New Orleans to build a City where winners and losers no longer exist. Then we all can let the music play, pull out the second-line umbrellas, dance, celebrate and let the fireworks blast off into the sky overlooking the Mississippi River as they did during the Inaugural Ball. In the days to come, if this is New Orleans’ direction, its citizens will not simply rest on with having made historical strides but continue its forward motion in changing lives for the better for its people.

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