See original article here.
By Christopher Tidmore
District “B” Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell came into the offices of The Louisiana Weekly full of righteous anger. She had spent a good bit of her morning with a young couple who were charged $650 per month for what can only politely be called “a dank and dark room” on First Street. The slumlord owner insisted that they could only pay their rent in cash (so no paper trail existed), had left holes in the walls, and had instructed them not to use the sink (because it did not work). Their kitchen was little more than a hot plate, the Councilwoman screamed!
It’s the kind of indignation in defense of the citizenry that might elect LaToya Cantrell Mayor of New Orleans next fall. And, with an announcement on her website on Friday, April 1, 2016, she made her candidacy official.
Regardless, the Councilwoman’s anger was justified. The young woman living in this overpriced hovel was less than two weeks from giving birth, and her boyfriend, who worked his way up from homelessness, laboring on a meager salary to provide decent shelter for his new family, didn’t have the resources to get them out – or the ability to make the slumlord improve his property.
The couple occupied, what in Cantrell’s opinion could best be called, “substandard housing”. This deliberate understatement came with photographs of the wall-holes in which rats came into the “studio apartment” at night.
“People shouldn’t have to live like this,” Cantrell declared. She pointed to the fact that all the laudatory national articles about Katrina +10 missed the fact that housing in New Orleans is overpriced and often insufficient, and no one is paying attention to the disparity.
To help solve the problem of overpriced and inadequate housing, Cantrell said, “I’m looking to drop legislation in January that will create a citywide housing registry.”
The idea “came from substandard housing choices” that the people of New Orleans have experienced in the last decade.” Some people live in deplorable conditions,” Cantrell continued, “and we don’t know who the owners of these properties are.” These properties are hidden by corporate veils and complex webs of LLCs, to protect the identities of slumlords who care little beyond collecting rent checks.
“The Registry would allow us to be able to identify who owns what properties, [so] we can immediately reach that owner.” The database would use existing city resources to assemble a list of viable and affordable rental properties and those that are insufficient and overpriced in comparison to the surrounding market.
“If you don’t have inspections of rental properties,” she asked, “how do you know the conditions people are living in?” The city would assemble a list of “slumlord properties.” At the same time, the legislation would encourage accountable, law abiding owners to sign up as part of the registry to not just “hold the bad actors accountable,” but to also “direct people to the good properties.” These ‘good owners’ could advertise on the registry when they have an availability, providing an outlet for those in horrible housing.
In other words, to ensure renters trapped in these conditions have a means of escape, Cantrell promised that the proposed registry would “create a parachute to help people immediately, perhaps by creating a partnership with your good owners. To move them immediately if there is a opening.”
And the former president of the Broadmoor Neighborhood Improvement Association proposed a partnership with nonprofits to help fund deposits if needed—since a lot of these couples lack the money to relocate.
LaToya Cantrell was elected to the City Council in the aftermath of the battle to save her neighborhood of Broadmoor, the most famed area to receive a “green dot” from the Bring Back New Orleans Commission, i.e. to become green space after Hurricane Katrina. She pioneered neighborhood activism in a fashion rarely before seen in New Orleans, ultimately creating the city’s first “Improvement District” where Broadmoor homeowners could tax themselves for vital community services from ballet classes to park maintenance in their own neighborhood.
Since her election to the Council, Cantrell has fought several lonely battles, including the war to end cigarette smoke in bars and casinos, a fight which drew international attention. Her victory also earned her a cover story in the Capitol Hill political magazine Politico.com entitled “Madam Mayor?”
Cantrell officially became the second candidate to formally confirm her intentions to run when she posted on her campaign website latoyacantrell.com, a solicitation of donations for “LaToya’s campaign for Mayor of New Orleans.” She is asking for up to $5000 per donation. Councilmanic candidates are limited to $2,500.
Nevertheless, even before her formal announcement, Cantrell sounded like a mayoral candidate. When asked if she was afraid for the future of New Orleans, due to the recent political developments nationally, the Councilwoman replied, “I’m not afraid. I am optimistic, because I know the people of New Orleans believe in the future. They just want to know what’s next… They want to be able to prepare.”
But Councilman Cantrell likely would not be alone in her bid. Former Civil Court Judge and mayoral candidate Michael Bagneris has already announced that he is making a second attempt at the Chief Executive post. Despite an unsuccessful bid against Mitch Landrieu four years ago, Bagneris enjoys quite a lot of crossover support in the white community. As an African-American Democrat, it must be remembered that he did earn the official GOP endorsement against Landrieu, along with the support of much of the Black political establishment four years ago.
J.P. Morrell has also seriously considered a run for Mayor, one confidential source close to the State Senator told The Louisiana Weekly, but he “will wait until June before making a formal announcement”. State Senator Karen Carter Peterson could become a candidate for Mayor, since her expected position in a Hillary Clinton Administration has evaporated, and they will be no Washington “thank you” for Peterson’s term as La. Democratic Party Chair.
State Senator Troy Carter has never gotten over his primary defeat in the race that eventually elected Ray Nagin, and he is seriously considering a bid. Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet has spoken of making the race, as has Councilman Jason Williams.
There are three prominent Caucasian potential contenders. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, Jr. and State Senator Walt Leger III are both mentioned. Cannizzaro has almost been Mayor Landrieu’s harshest critic, and enjoys a powerful constituency. In fact, the possibility of his entering the race has frozen much of the fundraising for the other candidates. Sen. Leger is term limited, and with his unsuccessful Speakership bid, Leger has some time to run—after the difficult regular legislative session.
The darkhorse contender could be the son of another St. Bernard luminary. Sidney Torres IV, the former Garbage Tsar hailed for cleaning up the French Quarter (and currently turning the abandoned Convent on Rampart into luxury apartments), has indicated that he leans towards a run, and could self-finance his bid.
The open primary for New Orleans Citywide elections will be held for the first time in the autumn, thanks to a legislative change.
The municipal/parochial primary is October 14, 2017.
This article originally published in the April 10, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.