NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Early voting starts Friday's for the runoff for the city's mayor's race, and on Tuesday FOX 8 conducted long-form one-on-one interviews with the two candidates.
In recent days, there have been a lot of back-and-forth statements in the press from campaigns over how the two candidates spent taxpayers' money while in office.
City Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell and former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet bested 16 other candidates to secure their spots in the runoff.
Recently Charbonnet's campaign provided public records to media outlets, including FOX 8. FOX 8 authenticated the records showing Cantrell reimbursed the city nearly $4,400 for purchases on a city-issued credit card just days after she officially qualified for the mayoral contest.
Purchases detailed in the public records include nearly 150 turkeys and hens and a meal at Reginellis Restaurant which included the purchase of kids' drinks, pizzas and alcohol. FOX 8's Sabrina Wilson asked Cantrell to respond to the fact that some of the purchases date back to 2013 and why it took years, in some cases, to reimburse the city.
"Well, in regards to, I always do a thorough assessment, but in preparation and even with advice leading towards running for this office of mayor, knowing that my opponents', particularly one in this case would definitely be scrutinizing my practices and with thorough, I would say, communication and taking advisement that the professional development initiatives that I do participate in I just went ahead and above and beyond and ensured that I reimbursed the city even though I didn't have to," said Cantrell.
FOX 8 also questioned Cantrell about the Reginellis purchase, which included kids' drinks, beer and pizza, among other items. The City Council's credit card use policy clearly states that using the credit card to purchase alcohol is prohibited. This is how Cantrell responded when asked if she violated the credit card policy.
"Actually if you look at the receipt you will see the amount of the full charge and then you will see the amount of what was actually charged to the card. And you will also see a difference in regards to an amount that was just alcohol only which was paid with a personal card and the expenditures associated with convening girls and buying pizza and them drinks was a separate expense that went on the city's card," Cantrell said.
After widespread local news coverage on Cantrell's city credit card use, Cantrell's campaign released documents that it said shows over $59,000 in what it calls wasteful, lavish and dubious spending by Charbonnet from 2007 to 2017 that was footed by taxpayers, including a New York trip and hotel bill that had a beer on it, according to the Cantrell camp.
FOX 8 News has not verified the Cantrell camp's assertions regarding Charbonnet's spending while in office. Still, Charbonnet was eager to address the claims during the interview Tuesday afternoon.
"Okay, I'm so glad you asked that. Number one, when we talk about the office this was when we were moving back into Municipal Court after having been in mock-courtrooms in the sheriff's building. There was no furniture. Before we got back there and it was renovated, there were dogs, and humans and people living in the Municipal Court building. ...You know I was in New York city, I was on a human-tracking summit. I was the only judge from Louisiana representing my program because I was the only court to have that in the state of Louisiana, a human-trafficking, prostitution and intervention program, diversion which was sorely needed and was so helpful to those who participated. I was proud to be in New York City to represent the judiciary," Charbonnet said.
FOX 8 asked her if she rejected claims that she used taxpayer dollars to pay for booze or otherwise in an inappropriate way.
"Absolutely, all of these are documented. Number one, I never used a city credit card. We didn't have a Municipal Court credit card. Either my court would write the checks in advance and mail them to the hotels, or to whatever seminar, or I would put it on my own personal card and then be reimbursed. And if you pay close attention to the actual bill that reflects a Budweiser or a Heineken, when you look at the bill and you look at the credit, the court did not pay for that. I paid for the incidentals. I think it was $20-something dollars that's shown on the actual bill and if you would like we can provide you with that," said Charbonnet.
FOX 8 News questioned the candidates on crime, economic development, affordable housing, procedures for city contracts, and other issues. Watch for that on FOX 8 News later this week.