N.O. mayoral candidates discuss 'independence,' avoiding patronage

How will mayoral candidates guard against patronage?

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The candidates for New Orleans mayor said during interviews with FOX 8 News that they would not be a political puppet for anyone and would guard against any type of patronage at City Hall.

"I want to lead, I want to get things done, I'm an implementer, I execute and that's what I want to do for New Orleans," candidate Latoya Cantrell said of why she is running.

"I have been committed for the last 20 years, I have served with honesty and integrity. I understand how to run public offices," Desiree Charbonnet stated.

One of them will become the city's female mayor after voters cast ballots in the Nov. 18 runoff. Before voters sent them to the runoff contest, Charbonnet was hit hard in ads and mailers by political action committees who questioned her independence.

FOX 8's Sabrina Wilson asked Charbonnet, a former judge, to explain why those attack ads are false.

"It's false because never in the 20 years that I've been in office have you ever heard of me being controlled by anyone. Sabrina, I'm a strong independent woman, that's why I'm running…I did not give up my job at Municipal Court to be controlled by some other people. This is a job that I'm asking for, I am going to be the mayor and I'm going to serve the entire city of New Orleans, but I think it's a bit insulting as we approach our first woman mayor to say that she's going to be controlled and she's incapable of making her own decisions. And I'll take a step further: It's not an easy job to sit on the bench every day and decide a person's freedom, deciding whether somebody is going to walk out of that courtroom, or you're going to give them jail time. Those are tough decisions that I have to make every single day, so I'm well suited to handle my own business on behalf of the citizens," Charbonnet stated.

Cantrell was also asked about her independence and why her inner circle would not negatively influence her as mayor.

"I will be independent because one, that is the only way to get not only results but meaningful results that impact the daily quality of life of people. When you get into picking and choosing, and when you let the politics rule the day people suffer and that has been evident in our city and that has to change. I have been an independent voice prior to even being on the council, getting on the council. I have led in efforts that have been unpopular, but I've gotten things done as a result, and that's how I want to continue to lead in our city," said Cantrell.

City Hall awards millions in professional services contracts. The candidates were asked how they would guard against patronage.

"No patronage where it concerns city contracts. I'm going to appoint an ethics compliance officer. That ethics compliance officer is not only going to review the contract we prepare, or receive, or we sign, but it's also going to be there for the employees of City Hall, as well. This will be someone, sort of a sounding board, so even if there's an employee in a particular department at City Hall that has a question, wants to make sure that they're going about something the right way, they can also review that with that person, so it serves more than just for the contracting process. It's going to serve for the entire City Hall," said Charbonnet.

"Oh, absolutely I can confirm and even reaffirm to the voters that that type of patronage has to be done, meaning we have to do away with those types of practices that have strangled the City of New Orleans for decades, and this is a new day, this is us transitioning to our 300th year and I can't think of a better time to  leave behind that pay-to-play, that patronage, that political machine, those tactics that have done a disservice to the citizens of this city," said Cantrell.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed executive orders early in his tenure to reform City Hall's contracting procedures.

"Well, I believe the executive orders have worked. I mean, that was the vehicle that our mayor used to ensure greater oversight and not getting into this pay-to-play, not getting into picking-and-choosing. I would keep those practices in place, however, I would even double down a little more to not have a practice that we recently saw when it came to cleaning out the catch basins," said Cantrell.

"I like what he's done, and I'm going to comply and follow through with what he's done. I want to make sure that we follow open meetings laws as well so that the public can be a part of that, but pretty much what he's done has worked. There's been no scandal, there's been no problems with the way it's gone and so, you know, if there's other areas where I can tweak it, I will. We need the best-qualified people who can give us the best product for what we need," Charbonnet said.

Voters changed the City Charter in 2014 to add some of Landrieu's reforms.

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