The new mayor has a lot of work to do to hit the ground running, which is what voters will rightly expect of her.
Congratulations to LaToya Cantrell, who will become New Orleans' mayor in May 2018. The six months between Cantrell's election and inauguration reflect changes in the law that moved up citywide elections to the fall, from winter, in hopes of saving money and increasing voter turnout. The latter didn't change compared to previous post-Hurricane Katrina mayoral elections, which saw similar turnouts of 31-35 percent.
The change in election dates leaves Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Mayor-elect Cantrell with an unusually long transition period. This could be a blessing. It gives Cantrell lots of time to select her staff and plot her first months in office. Some big challenges await the new mayor's attention.
Police and Crime — Cantrell's most important hire will be that of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) superintendent, and her most vexing challenge will be reducing crime. Current Police Chief Michael Harrison has said he's interested in keeping the job, and many candidates for City Council, as well as mayor, said he's done a good job. We think voters would be interested to see Harrison's decision-making outside of Landrieu's oversight. Cantrell has said the next police chief needs more independence, and she pledged to find the best person for the job via a nationwide search — and that Harrison is welcome to apply. On the crime front, the most important thing the next mayor can do is bring back the 1990s-style partnership between the business and faith communities, which joined NOPD and federal prosecutors to institute Crime Watch programs, community policing and programs to engage at-risk youths. There is no single, silver bullet solution to crime. All must be part of the solution.
The S&WB Debacle — Cantrell's biggest challenge will be to learn all she can as fast as she can about the problems of the Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB), which suffers from dysfunction and low morale. The Aug. 5 flood hit many homeowners and businesses hard, but it also was a wake-up call. Cantrell, who seems to favor some public-private partnerships, has rejected the idea of privatizing the S&WB, suggesting instead that the troubled agency be brought back (at least partially) under the auspices of City Hall to help it coordinate better with the Department of Public Works (DPW), which is responsible for cleaning catch basins.
Housing — Cantrell faces a tough road ahead on the issue of affordable housing. She voted for the current short-term rental (STR) law, which gives too much to absentee landlords by not requiring a homestead exemption. As mayor, she should push for tighter STR restrictions. She does favor a wide-ranging rental registry, which would require all landlords to register with the city and undergo inspections, and late in the campaign she said she supports rent control. Both of those ideas will be difficult to enact, but it's a debate worth having.
A six-month transition seems like a long time, but the weeks and months will pass quickly, particularly when interrupted by holidays and Carnival. The new mayor has a lot of work to do to hit the ground running, which is what voters rightly will expect of her.