HARTMAN: In Defense Of LaToya Cantrell (Seriously, Not Seriously)

I long ago relinquished keys to my abode in New Orleans and rarely even venture back, finding comfort in my Northshore life and little besides fear in what my once-beloved Crescent City has become.  That’s not all Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s fault, by any means, but she certainly hasn’t made it any better.  These days, she’s making it worse – but she’s not ALL bad.

I differ from many fellow conservatives on the handling of the COVID-19 crisis almost three years ago, as I honestly think Cantrell did a decent job with an extremely difficult set of circumstances.  Most public officials were acting on the best information they had available at the time, and she was no exception.  So, OK.  Good job in flattening the curve, ma’am.

Prior to that – and now – I’m not a fan.  On the City Council, I think Cantrell demonstrated an extremely limited knowledge of basic economics, and even less ability to engage in critical thought.  I didn’t have a horse in the 2017 mayoral race but when she won I shrugged and thought, “OK.  Maybe she’ll be OK.”

I’ve lived in the New Orleans metro area since 1988.  Prior to Cantrell, every mayor has been better than the last – damning them with faint praise.  In fact, when Mitch Landrieu was leaving office and tweeted something self-congratulatory, I responded: “Sir, In the 30 years I’ve been here, you’re the best mayor New Orleans has had, and that’s like saying you’re my favorite kind of cancer.”

Cantrell has been worse, allowing crime to spin out of control as businesses (and residents) flee the city.  Has she been truly corrupt?  I don’t think so.  But she’s been inept beyond belief, and tone deaf more than almost any politician I’ve ever seen.  She has alienated a City Council that should’ve been eager to work with her, in this term, and the first.  Her extensive travel was inexcusable.  Her use of the City-owned Pontalba apartment just takes the cake.

WVUE-Fox 8’s Lee Zurik first reported her frequent presence at the apartment weeks ago.  She was there quite a bit, including when she should have been about the City’s business.  Future examination of surveillance video showed she was there quite often with one of her NOPD bodyguards.  The implication of adultery was clear, but Zurik appropriately never connected those dots.

Those reports led to others, though, including how Cantrell manages her time and mayoral calendar.  She has a lot of “out of office” days, apparently.  She seems to miss a lot of appointments, or send subordinates in her stead.  To an extent, I get that.

In my political career, I’ve worked for state and U.S. senators, parish presidents, sheriffs, state and U.S. representatives, mayors, council members, and others – including an African president and a European prime minister.  None of them have 8-5 jobs.  Working for them, myself, I rarely had 8-5 office time, either.  I often filled-in for them when they were busy.  Some days we worked four hours, some we worked 14.  Some days involved martini lunches, while others required coffee-fuelled marathons.  That’s the nature of politics.  It’s the nature of high-level government.  It’s also why I defended Presidents Trump and Obama regarding their “vacations”; no elected official – and certainly not a head of state – is ever truly on liberty.

What none of them did or do – and what I never did or do – is justify personal luxury on the taxpayers’ tab.  If Cantrell’s calendar jibed with her Pontalba adventures, if her emails and phone logs showed actual work, if she responded that, yes, she took liberty during the day when she had to work late at night, I’d be more understanding.  Instead, she hides behind the ludicrous allegation that surveillance of her – conducted by a public entity, not a news-gatherer – impedes her safety.  That’s cute, and it’s the same stupid excuse she used for her $18,000, first-class airfare to France. It kept her “safe.”

Seriously, what are you talking about?

I want our government leaders kept safe.  I was livid years ago when it was revealed that President Obama’s Secret Service detail had been cavorting and drunk when they should’ve been seeing to his security – and I never even voted for him.  On the local level, our officials also need to be protected.  But Cantrell’s conduct with her NOPD-assigned officer is ridiculous, and highly suspicious.  I don’t care about the mayor’s marriage, any more than I care about the intimate details of my local officials here in the ‘burbs.  I really don’t.  For goodness sake, though, show some discretion – and for the love of Pete, don’t abuse your executive privileges.

U.S. Sen. Gary Hart once told reporters that he was squeaky clean, and challenged them to follow him.  They did, and found him cavorting on a boat called “Monkey Business” with a woman who was not his wife.  It ended his presidential aspirations.

By way of full disclosure, Donna Rice (the young lady photographed on Hart’s lap) and I both graduated from Irmo High School in South Carolina. (In unrelated connections, I also attended the same suburban-DC junior high as Sylvester Stallone and Connie Chung, and my mom went to high school with Goldie Hawn.  Truth, fun, and irrelevant.)

All that to say, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for elected executives to flex their schedules.  I don’t think their privacy should be violated.  I don’t think executive leaders should be required to punch a clock.

I DO think it’s unreasonable for Cantrell to justify her daytime dalliances and expensive junkets as “city business.”  New Orleans has long been dysfunctional, but its people aren’t stupid.  At least, I hope they’re not.  We’ll see how that petition goes.

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