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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cantrell to become New Orleans' first woman mayor; Nguyen upsets Gray in District E; Banks beats Bloom by 131 votes in District B

Posted By , and on Sat, Nov 18, 2017 at 11:29 PM

click to enlarge New Orleans mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell greets supporters before her victory speech. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • New Orleans mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell greets supporters before her victory speech.

LaToya Cantrell will be New Orleans’ first-ever woman to become mayor in the city’s nearly 300-year history. New Orleans voters elected the District B City Council member in the runoff against former municipal court judge Desiree Charbonnet, capping off a contentious election cycle marked by scandals over public credit card spending, attack ads and debate over the future of the city’s post-Katrina infrastructure, short-term rentals, crime, and the troubled Sewerage & Water Board.

“Almost 300 years, and we’re still making history,” Cantrell said at her campaign party at the New Orleans Jazz Market Nov. 18.

Cantrell spoke to Charbonnet over the phone earlier in the evening as early polling returns put Cantrell in the lead. “I said to her, ‘congratulations on standing with me on making history, because our history was two women in the runoff.’ And we both deserve to be proud of that,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell received roughly 60 percent of the vote in Saturday’s election, with Charbonnet earning 40 percent. An estimated 32 percent of New Orleans voters showed up at the polls.

click to enlarge Desiree Charbonnet addresses supporters in her concession speech. - PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • Desiree Charbonnet addresses supporters in her concession speech.
At her party at the New Orleans Sheraton, an upbeat Charbonnet took the stage around 9:30 p.m. to give brief remarks. U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a longtime backer, introduced Charbonnet as a "great, interesting, smart, quintessential woman," adding, "This book is not over ... all we did is turn the page.”

"It has been a journey; it has been a ride ... it's been momentous,” Charbonnet said. “I truly do not regret anything about this campaign." Charbonnet issued an unequivocal call for her supporters to back Cantrell's work as mayor, saying, "If she does well, we all do well.”

Charbonnet told Gambit that now she'll take a vacation (she's not sure where) to take a "deep breath" and regroup. Of her loss in the election, she says "It was a large point difference ... it was challenging to overcome," but respects the choice of the voters. "It's their decision."

Election night’s biggest upset was in the City Council District E race, where challenger Cyndi Nguyen, a longtime community leader in New Orleans East, bested incumbent James Gray by a wide margin. Nguyen received 59 percent of the vote to Gray’s 41 percent. Nguyen will be the council’s first Vietnamese-American woman member.
In District B, which was a tossup going into election night with no incumbent, it was a squeaker until the end. With more than 15,000 votes cast, only 131 votes separated victorious Jay Banks, a former Council legislative aide, and Seth Bloom, an attorney and former president of the Orleans Parish School Board. While Banks declared victory, Bloom said he would not concede until early and absentee votes were recounted.

The only statewide race, the runoff for treasurer, produced no surprises, with Republican former state Rep. John Schroder besting the Democratic candidate, Derrick Edwards, who had put up a perfunctory campaign, 56 to 44 percent.

In the Northshore race to fill Schroder’s seat, ret. Col. Rob Maness — who had previously mounted unsuccessful runs for U.S. Senate and U.S. Representative — lost in his third bid for elected office to Mark Wright. Both men are Republicans.

Cantrell’s election night party — soundtracked by DJ Soul Sister and a powerful St. Peter Claver Choir — echoed her primary night speech to “expand that scope of inclusion.”

“Whether or not you were born here, whether or not you chose to be here, the bottom line is we are here,” she said in her victory speech. “The people have spoken. No one will be left out, no one will be left behind.”

Cantrell’s campaign focused largely on the promise of inclusion within City Hall in her administration, to lift up people and neighborhoods whose voices and presence have been left out of the city’s rebuilding efforts and legislation following Katrina. She renewed that promise in her victory speech.

“This has been the people’s campaign from Day One,” said Cantrell, surrounded by family, campaign staff and supporters including Neil Abramson, Austin Badon, Michael Bagneris and Karen Carter Peterson. “This win is not for me or my family. This win tonight is for the City of New Orleans. We have work to do, and let me tell you, we are going to do it together. That’s the only way.”

Cantrell says she plans to work closely with Mayor Mitch Landrieu over the course of a nearly six-months-long transition period, “to have best transition possible to determine best next steps with police department,” and bring in a staff with “core competencies and skill sets to help with governing but also have values of people at heart” who are “free of bias, free of subjectivity,” and able to “meet people with a spirit of empathy.”

“My way has always been to love anyway, to include anyway, because it’s time for us to do that,” she said. “For far too long too many people have not had a hand in real opportunities in this city. It’s been a tale of two cities. The haves and the have nots.”

As the city’s 51st mayor prepares to enter office in May, she also will be the focus of a Louisiana Legislative Auditor investigation into her credit card spending while on the New Orleans City Council, which dominated media attention and much of the campaign in the final weeks of the runoff election after receipts were “anonymously” mailed to media outlets throughout the city.

Cantrell dodged attacks criticizing her spending in a period that also saw late-in-the-campaign mailers declaring the California native “Straight Outta Compton” and scrutinizing her family’s relationship to Detroit. Ads from anti-Charbonnet political action committees handled her responses (and attacks), focused on Charbonnet as a “pay-to-play” operative at City Hall.

“I put my blinders on up until this point,” Cantrell told reporters. “Now it’s time to take the blinders off and be holistic, be inclusive.”

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