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NOLA mayor LaToya Cantrell avoids recall vote

Following successive scandals and investigations, the prominent Black Catholic survived a months-long effort to trigger a special election.

New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell at city hall in 2020. (David Grunfeld/The Times-Picayune)

Opposition groups pursuing a recall of New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell have failed in their efforts to trigger a special election, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced on Tuesday.

The six-month “NoLaToya” campaign, which has brought media scrutiny both to the two-term incumbent as well as the GOP financier behind the recall, involved a headline-making lawsuit earlier this month to lower the required number of petition signatures.

Though that case was successful, a last-minute removal of thousands of signatures by the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters contributed to the petition falling roughly 18,000 signatures short.

“As a former member of the New Orleans City Council and a twice-elected mayor, I have always respected and believed deeply in the democratic process,” Cantrell said in a statement on Wednesday.

“I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to the residents of New Orleans for trusting in my leadership and believing that, for New Orleans, the best is truly yet to come.”

Cantrell, a Black Catholic, is the first female mayor in the history of New Orleans, and the first mayor born outside the city since Vic Schiro in the 1960s. The latter is one of many criticisms she has faced since the time of her initial 2017 mayoral campaign, including a number of scandals and public works crises.

Most recently, she was found to be taking expensive trips out of the country related to her mayoral work, including three within a span of five weeks last summer. One involved a visit to France that cost over $43,000 (including $18,000 in flights for Cantrell alone).

This was followed by revelations that Cantrell was using a city-owned apartment for personal use, itself connected to the mayor’s dealings with her bodyguard—who soon after faced a divorce filing alleging the two were having an affair. Both Cantrell and the officer have denied the allegations.

Cantrell has also denied any financial wrongdoing, even as the sitting city council has moved to restrict her financial activities and called for further oversight over her city appointments. She has also faced criticism for her handling of the city’s growing violent crime issues, including a nation-leading murder rate in 2022 and the highest homicide count for the city in nearly thirty years.

These concerns were apparently not enough to galvanize voters to support a recall—especially given its connections to a major GOP donor, local businessman Richard “Rick” Farrell. The two principal founders of the recall effort are Belden Batiste, who lost to Cantrell in the 2021 mayoral election, and former Cantrell staffer Eileen Carter.

Both Batiste and Carter are Black Democrats, as is most of the population of New Orleans. Even so, the city reacted to the recall effort mostly along party and racial lines, with support coming almost exclusively from the city’s White lakeside and uptown neighborhoods.

As such, Cantrell’s campaign office called the recall organizers’ lawsuit to lower the signature requirement—essentially regarding certain citizens as inactive voters—a matter of injustice.

“Our concern remains: voting rights continue to be threatened, as we saw with the backroom deal to disenfranchise thousands of New Orleans voters in order to move the goalposts at the behest of an almost singular Republican donor,” the campaign manager Maggie Carroll.

“The recall campaign has been divisive, dishonest, and opaque to say the least.”

The failure of the recall hinged on the removal of more than 39,000 signatures based on their status as non-electors, people ineligible to vote in a New Orleans mayoral election. In February, recall organizers claimed they had at least 39,000 signers total up to that point.

Following the announcement of the petition’s failure, the NoLaToya group said they were “met with countless obstacles” throughout the process.

“The way the law is written now, the recall was required to get more signatures than votes Mayor Cantrell was required to get to be elected to office.”

Questions remain about the specifics of why certain signatures were thrown out, as thousands were scrapped with no explanation. Local journalists seeking answers have been met with tight lips from the Registrar of Voters.

The NoLaToya group says the recall efforts “have only just begun” and that they “will continue to fight.”

“We are exploring all legal options at this time. We will also move forward with legislation to correct the injustices that we were met with along this process. We will continue to demand accountability from our elected officials.”

GOP state Rep. Paul Hollis, a resident of Mandeville—a White flight suburb across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans—says he will soon file a bill that would lower the recall threshold across Louisiana to 20% of voters in the relevant election, rather than a fifth of eligible voters.

“That is a much more achievable threshold,” he told local media.

Meanwhile, Cantrell says she will continue two separate lawsuits she filed to halt the recall organizers’ deal earlier this month with Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, a Republican elected in 2018. The judge who signed the settlement, Jennifer Medley, was later revealed to have been a signatory on the recall petition.

One of the Cantrell suits, filed in the state capital of Baton Rouge, is scheduled for a hearing on April 5.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.

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