A Day in the Life of Mayor LaToya Cantrell
As the citizens of New Orleans are living in historical times; its first woman Mayor LaToya Cantrell, is rolling up her sleeves and pushing forward with her vision for NOLA. On this day Data News Weekly was able to get an up close and personal look at a day in the life of Mayor Cantrell.
Seated out in the lobby were a cadre of different stakeholders representing various interest. A note that seems to ring true of her campaign that all voices matter and is a testament and symbol to her commitment of a City moving Forward Together. It is the eve of her first budget as mayor (passing unanimously in the City Council the next day).
We enter her office, it has a bright spring like feel; which is a stark contrast to the cold, wet, dark and dreary day outside. Data News Weekly Publisher Terry Jones and I are warmly greeted by Mayor Cantrell, who we sit with at a large conference table.
2019 Budget Priorities and Putting People First
The Mayor begins with a laser like focus talking about the budget and her vision for the city. It is one that is holistic and inclusive. While this sentiment is one that’s been echoed by previous Mayors; Cantrell, stresses inclusion as one of her top budget priorities, professing that if the City is to continue to be a world class City, it must address issues of inequality and quality of life.
The New Orleans City Council approved the 2019 City Budget. The approved amount for the general fund is 702 Million; in addition, 419.6 million dollars is part of the budget from grants, Intergovernmental transfers and special funds. In total over a one billion dollars, according to Mayor Cantrell.
Her first budget includes a 10 percent pay raise for more than 2700 employees, which includes members of the New Orleans Fire Department. Some of which who have not seen a pay raise in over a decade.
“It is important that the people who work for our city are better compensated. I believe we need to set the tone and hope that in the private sector they can replicate this and pay the hardworking people of our city a better wage. This is something that can help in improving the quality of life for all our citizens,” says Cantrell.
Investing in Finding Solutions to the Problems in the City New Orleans
Another issue relating to inequality is the lack of affordable housing. The Cantrell Administration is allocating 10 Million dollars towards this effort.
“We have to approach this as a crisis in our city. We cannot continue to have our residents, many of them hard working and in some cases holding down several jobs and of no fault of their own not being able to find affordable housing.”
As some of the City’s youth find limited opportunities and structural roadblocks that impede them from striving to reach higher; resulting in some turning to crime and violence at a young age. The Cantrell Administration has introduced The Office of Youth and Families, a program that will serve as an alternative to the Juvenile Detention Center for non-violent offenders. Additionally, funds have been allocated for a non-profit group that represents juvenile defendants in court.
Another part of this holistic approach builds on the theme of assisting children; with 1.5 million dollars earmarked towards early childhood education. The program will provide money for daycare for 100 children younger than 5. While there is a much greater need for more programs of this sort, the City making steps to invest is a vital first step. This program will cover infants and toddlers as well as those preparing for kindergarten. This in turn giving parents much needed opportunities to work or enroll in job training programs.
Addressing Public Safety
Public safety is atop Mayor Cantrell list of priorities. While being tough on crime; Mayor Cantrell is taking a more balanced approach and is also looking at it as a public health issue. Taking the challenges head on that the city faces and putting resources behind what she feels can lead to possible solutions.
“Everything relates to public health, even as it relates to violent crime housing jobs, we look at it all through the lens of public health,” says Cantrell. “We are being intentional in making sure that we are able to show people in our city that they all matter.”
In the area of public safety, a reported $236 million in general funds have been allocated. This includes monies for additional resources for first responders; monies for police recruiting; funding and a re-imagining of the Ceasefire Program and rebranding it as the Cure Violence Initiative. Mayor Cantrell has also created the New Office of Youth and Families.
“It’s been about realigning resources, breaking down silos and getting out of the habit of saying this is my department budget,” the Mayor said during a press conference touting the 2019 budget.
Traffic Camera’s and Diversity in City Contracts
In the budget there is some positive news for the city’s motorists. The Traffic Cameras that has been a source of controversy since their inception is being reduced as part of a proposed phasing out of the program. This is part of the Mayor keeping a campaign promise to take steps to eliminate traffic cameras.
Economic inclusion of minorities is a problem that continues to be a problem in New Orleans. In Cantrell’s first budget $250,000 is earmarked for the Office of Supplier Diversity, which tries to ensure that city contractors comply with rules for hiring businesses owned by women and minorities.
“Everybody has to be included in getting economic opportunities, and we are taking measures to ensure that all people can have a chance to participate in accessing these opportunities and having something in place that provides oversight.”
How to Make the City Better
While the City of New Orleans have over a 1-billion-dollar budget, Cantrell says the city should receive more of the city’s revenues that go to the state, so it can re-invest in the City. Making a call to action for the citizens.
“One of the things I will need support on is getting our people to understand the revenues that are generated in the city off the backs of our people. If we had a little bit more of that reinvested in her. In her people and we are the backbone of the city and the State of Louisiana. And we need to see a greater investment in what we generate. So, I am looking to be rolling out an initiative and campaign for revenue to be redistributed to infrastructure and maintenance in the City of New Orleans.”
Mayor Cantrell cites, just how small amount of the revenues New Orleans produce goes back into running the City. Also speaking of the disparity compared to other cities.
“Of revenues produced by New Orleans only 2 percent actually goes to actually running the city. Other cities that are destination cities get much more. For example, San Antonio gets 14 percent is reinvested in the general fund of San Antonio. The rest goes to state, what comes back goes to the Superdome, Convention Center, Tourism and Marketing and the Convention and Business Bureau. And they are controlled by their own boards and commissions and they determine where their money goes.”
Clean Up NOLA Campaign
Whether one is walking, riding a bike or driving a car. It is not hard to spot the eyesore that is trash around the City. It has become an unintended consequence of a city that has a laissez faire attitude towards life. This is something that impacts the quality of life for all the citizens of New Orleans. Further, it discourages investment in some parts of the City.
“Clean Up Nola, a campaign we will roll out in January, awareness and education campaign get out of living in a filthy environment and getting the trash out of our eyes and we cannot see our worth and value,” Cantrell says with passion ringing in her voice. “We are great, and Clean-Up NOLA will not only clean up our city, it will help all in improving our quality of life.”
Investing in Areas of Opportunity: All Zip Codes Matter
The City, under the Cantrell Administration plans to prioritize places where investment is needed; something that will not only make certain areas of the city attractive for investment and to live, but the entire city.
Speaking of several city projects Mayor Cantrell says, “We have more in land in the Laffite Greenway than in Central Park and it is right in the middle of the city and touches five different areas. You can bike it, walk it, there is a pool and play equipment and all kinds of people are using it. We hope that more people begin to see the quality of life projects we will be introducing throughout the city.”
In New Orleans East and Algiers sections of the City, Cantrell is working to incentivize investment in these areas. Speaking of these initiatives she says, “We have brought on a consultant to look at areas of New Orleans East that the city owns and also in Algiers. When it is done we will direct development dollars towards projects in both of these areas. We are telling investors, if you want public money to help with your investment this is where it needs to be.”
It has been less than one year since Cantrell was sworn into office as Mayor. It is a story that continues to unfold and being written. How this historic story will be told to future generations is unknown.
As we end our conversation with Mayor Cantrell, we exchange pleasantries as she is preparing for a conference call. Her demeanor is upbeat, and she is optimistic about the city and its direction. “We have to continue on the theme of moving forward together. We are on the path to becoming an even greater city and we all have to lend a hand in making it better. Because all of our citizens’ matter and they all deserve a chance to thrive.”