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Q&A: New Orleans Mayoral Candidate LaToya Cantrell

Jess Clark
LaToya Cantrell (center) debating education fixes with opposing candidate Desiree Charbonnet (left) and former candidate Michael Bagneris (right) at WYES studios.

The New Orleans mayoral election is Saturday. WWNO’s Jessica Rosgaard sat down with both candidates. Here is her interview with councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, conducted on Monday, Nov. 13.

You can hear the interview with former municipal court judge, Desiree Charbonnet, here.

Q: You and your opponent have participated in many debates together and there's been a sense after the debates that you don't differ all that much in policy. So tell me what are the three most significant policy differences between you and your opponent?

A: I think the difference is, the areas that I seek in regards to policy, is I’ve actually done work in those areas and delivered results on the ground. So in regards to public safety, I have been very instrumental at advancing pay raises for officers, advancing technology in terms of license plate readers, crime cameras, advancing the Welcoming Cities in regards to community and police relations. So, I have been boots-on-the-ground as it relates to that. I've been stabilizing neighborhoods, working to get the trash out of people's eyes, starting aversion programs, criminal justice reform. So, my record and my policies are aligned with the work that I do and have done. That's the difference. When you haven't done anything, it's easy to promise everything. But I've done it. In regards to affordable housing or housing issues in the city, I've brought the voice to that. Resurrected the housing trust fund, ensured different policy changes were made in terms of the lien waiver process. Created, passed laws for a mow-to-own home program. Implemented a green and clean program. Getting the trash again out of people's eyes through addressing overgrown, vacant lots that have become dumping grounds in the community. In terms of housing, helped and continue to push forward in terms of gap financing options, soft second. I've done the work in this. The separation is based on delivering results on all of these areas. I've done it. I have been on the legislative side of government, municipal government, creating the framework in which the mayor has to operate in. I have participated in creating the budget for the city of New Orleans in which the mayor has to operate within. I've worked within every single city department within city government — again having addressed, not only the needs in regards to quality of life issues on the ground, but it all goes back to the work, having the experience, and the ability to hit the ground running, no training wheels needed.

Q: Crime and justice reform are clearly issues that are of interest to New Orleanians and your focus in the last legislative session with the Louisiana justice reinvestment package. What will you do specifically to support these policy efforts in the city?

A: Well, I'm going to do what I've been doing on the New Orleans City Council. My vote is on public record in regards to clinical justice reform. One — adhering to the 1438 bed size. Two, in regards to pushing for a low-barrier homeless shelter that will meet the needs of those returning or reentering society, to eliminate or alleviate that revolving door. Passed legislation to address municipal offenses, minimizing them in regards to marijuana, preventing people from being incarcerated due to that. Also as it relates to juvenile justice reform, lay the effort that ultimately resulted in the council over a month ago approving a juvenile warning system, that will meet our kids where they are, preventing them from being aligned with, or even touching, the criminal justice system on the front end. Pushing again in regards to mental health services. So, my work again in this area is very consistent. And in regards to partnering, to ensure that we are aligned with what the governor is doing, that the city of New Orleans is in lockstep with that. So that we can ensure that our people are connected to real opportunity. And so when it comes to even the workforce-development component that's necessary, to get people who re-entering, but on the path to a better future with being connected to a job. I mean, that's something I'm committed to. As well as, again, stabilizing the environments that our people are living in, which has a direct correlation between behaviors and attitudes as well.

Q: You said at a forum over the weekend that you wished you had been asked more about mental health services during the campaign. What is your plan to combat mental health issues and the lack of mental health services in New Orleans?

A: Well, one is to ensure that UMC (University Medical Center) is operating at the level that we were promised when it was built. We were told it was going to open with 60 beds. It opened with less than 40. With a real push, we got them to 45.*

So, one, getting the services that we were promised. But two, also providing a co-location of services. That's why I pushed for the low-barrier homeless shelter, so that you can have mental health services, you can have substance abuse services. You can put our people in a place where they will get care. And I will also scale up an organization that I started, a behavioral health organization that I started, so that the city will become a site for our students who are getting their master's in social work, which they have to do one year of clinical. So I will make city hall a site that will allow us to leverage the graduate students who are getting their clinical, but being able to meet our people where they are and to provide that individual or family counseling that's necessary. There are things that we can do — turning that map around and being more creative to utilize the resources that we have. We have eight colleges and universities in the city of New Orleans and two medical schools that we do not play to as a strength. And we have to begin to do that. So it's using the resources we have, being more creative with what we have, but making it a priority — both for adults, but there's a real disparity as it relates to our young people as well in terms of mental health services. And when we want to talk about crime and violence, there's a direct correlation to the mental health and the capacity, or the lack of. So we know that public safety is an issue for people, but we have to connect the dots that mental health is directly tied to that.

Q: Listening to people from across the city, people aren't really excited about you or your opponent. There’s been a lot of controversy in this campaign. And given the history of corruption and nepotism in New Orleans politics, how are you going to convince wary citizens that this will be different? How will you earn their trust?

A: Well, hopefully I'll earn their trust by looking at my track record of getting things done. When no one was in the trenches doing much, LaToya Cantrell was. Not being elected but being a concerned citizen who was able to roll up her sleeves and do the job. Listen to people, build consensus, and get things done. So I have a track record to stand on. It's not one of a talk. It's about one of real action and results. So if you want to put your trust in someone, I would think you would do it in someone who has a demonstrated record of getting things done for the people. And so that's my record. I stand on it very firmly. And I will continue to deliver for the city. So, you know, when you haven't done anything, it's easy to promise everything. And I've done a lot. Definitely more than my opponent. And have not been in elected office 20 and 30 years; but I have demonstrated within a short period of time, not only my commitment, but my ability to get results, and that's what we need in this town. We need someone no-nonsense, who isn't afraid to do the job, who has the vision to lead, who has the courage to stand up, and the compassion to care about people. That's my record, and that’s what I’m standing on.

*When University Medical Center opened on August 1, 2015, they had 38 beds available for mental health patients, out of the 60 that had been planned. The mental health unit currently has a 60 bed capacity.

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