NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New Orleans mayoral candidate Latoya Cantrell brushed off allegations that she made purchases with a city-issued credit card for personal reasons.
Monday, Cantrell faced her opponent, former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet, during a debate on Xavier University's campus. The credit card issue was debated several times during the hour-and-a-half discussion.
Public records show Councilwoman Cantrell reimbursed the city nearly $4,400 days before qualifying to run for mayor. In some cases, it took Cantrell years to pay the city back.
But there are also questions about purchases she made with the credit card and did not pay the city back, including purchases at Rouse's for Hershey's kisses, drinks, Jolly Ranchers, York Peppermint Patties and sugar
Cantrell made another purchase near the holidays for 71 whole turkeys and 77 Grade A hens that cost the city nearly $1,600.
Cantrell argued those purchases were for outreach in the community.
"Outreach is definitely a part of what a City Council does every step of the way," she said. "The expenditures that you're talking about were not personal expenditures and did advance the work that I have done for the City of New Orleans while working on the New Orleans City Council."
State law does not allow politicians to donate or give away items purchased with public money.
"What I know is that the City Council's policy for the use of the credit card and my budget were spent appropriately. We're definitely above board and no violations of the council's policy at all. It's outreach. I'm a City Council person. I've been one of the most effective City Council people period in my opinion, and I think I've done an excellent job serving the citizens of New Orleans," Cantrell said.
Charbonett also went on the defense during the debate after she was accused of promising to increase District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's budget in return for his endorsement.
"I can't control the district attorney. He can say what he wants, but the fact is I've never committed that to him. I would never do that," Charbonnet said. "I can't do that in the blind without knowing what the budget is going to be. The budget for 2018 is already going to be prepared."
After the candidates defended themselves, they debated issues facing the city.
Cantrell and Charbonnet said they are not in favor of privatizing the Sewerage and Water Board.
Both said one way to address jobs in the city is to start filling positions at the S&WB. Cantrell added she wants to create additional workforce development programs to add jobs.
Both leaders want to use federal funds to fix city streets, and both agree the Department of Public Works needs effective leadership with engineering and management experience.
The candidates differ in how to handle traffic cameras in the city.
"In regards to the removal of the cameras, I am in favor of that because they are burdensome, and they are extremely expensive," Cantrell said. "Not only that most of the resources are going out of state and not staying here."
Charbonnet wants to keep the cameras in school zones and remove the other cameras over time - not immediately.
"Most people think it's a money grab, and I agree with them. The problem is it's been put into the budget now so we do have to figure out how we replace that money," Charbonnet said.
Both candidates want to beef up NOPD manpower and practice community policing to address crime in the city. Both candidates also said current Superintendent Michael Harrison will have the opportunity to re-apply for his job as NOPD leader.