PHOTO BY ALEX WOODWARD
Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell with Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
New Orleans District B City Councilmember LaToya Cantrell celebrated her victory in the mayoral election over the weekend, but City Hall has been working on the transition from Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration to the next mayor-elect for several months.
When Landrieu entered office in 2010, inheriting a City Hall in “dysfunction” and “nearly bankrupt” under Mayor Ray Nagin, “We spent an inordinate amount of time just trying to understand how government was organized, what existed, and where things even were,” he said. “So much of our work in the early days was just trying to organize … I vowed to never leave the city in that shape for folks coming after us.”
In a joint press conference and display of harmony between the two politicians who often were at odds with the other through their terms in office, mayor-elect Cantrell ensured that after an abnormally long transition period, they’ll “not only come out on top but shine for the citizens of New Orleanians, because the people will definitely come first,” she said.
Exactly what will happen in the Cantrell camp within that long transition period (more than 160 days) and who will be a part of it — have not been announced, but some details emerged Nov. 21.
Cantrell’s current Chief of Staff John Pourciau will act as a “point person” between Cantrell and Judy Reese Morse, who has led transition efforts in the mayor’s office.
Cantrell also plans to launch a “robust website” with transition details, and next week she’ll participate in a seminar hosted by the Kennedy School of Government and U.S. Conference of Mayors, a “special session organized for newly elected mayors,” Cantrell said.
Cantrell previously had called for dismantling the deputy mayor system under Landrieu, and Cantrell said she plans to take a “deeper dive as far as what our structure will look like going forward.”
As for New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Michael Harrison and New Orleans Fire Department Chief Tim McConnell, Cantrell said she doesn’t plan to rush any decisions over their future in the administration.
“We owe the public this time to ensure we have a seamless transition, and that leadership will be in place in May,” she said. “As I've always said, those in the positions now ... will be considered, absolutely. We owe them that. They're boots on the ground right now and providing effective leadership.”
Removing Landrieu-era traffic cameras — an early Cantrell campaign issue — still “is definitely a priority of mine,” she said. “We'll be looking at that thoroughly through this transition period.”
The mayor’s office will begin reviewing audits from longtime City Hall consulting firm PFM — which details strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, and policy successes and failures within each city department — and share those with Cantrell (and the public). “You really can’t as a mayor get into a position of what you want to do until it’s actually there,” Landrieu said. “That level of information helps inform the mayor-elect. It certainly did for me.”
"We’ve worked together a very long time, we’re very good friends, we’re both passionate, we’re both hard headed," Landrieu said of Cantrell. "That’s a necessary prerequisite to be a mayor of New Orleans.”
Landrieu counted the transition as a success, contrasted by a hostile state legislature and a Congress that “can’t agree what time of day it is.”
“This City Council and this mayor, 99 percent of the time we were not only in agreement but unanimous,” he said. “You don’t run for the mayor of the city of New Orleans unless you have an unconditional love for the city and its people.”
Landrieu also congratulated the new City Council, which he called “really exciting in its depth and diversity” — five new members will join the Council after only two incumbents recaptured their seats.
As for what Landrieu plans to do when he formally leaves office in May, Landrieu has started writing a book
, In the Shadow of Statues
, about his relationship to the removal of four Confederate monuments in New Orleans. He was approached to write the book following his much-publicized speech during the removal of Robert E. Lee’s statue
“It's really about the south and it's about race and it's about history, and the monuments are a piece of that,” he said. “It really doesn't help to try and tell the story about why I made the ultimate decision without talking about the time I spent in legislature, the time I spent as lieutenant governor, and then of course the time I spent as mayor, because it's all part of the context of the 300th anniversary. … You guys have heard me say this many, many times. What's guided me is not building the city the way it was but the way it should've been. The monuments, the decision was part of it. I'll try and recall that as much as I can.”
Landrieu says he's “not overly anxious” about his plans after leaving office
“I have a lot of work to do between now and May 5. I have at least 100 priorities, just in terms of execution,” he said. “I’ve got to land the plane ... or better yet, transfer the plane to someone else in mid-air, and my intention is that we finish very strong. … What happens after that is anybody’s guess.”