ZURIK: Council members will again debate removing Pontalba from mayor’s disposal

Published: Jul. 19, 2023 at 5:22 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Following allegations of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s violation of a council ordinance by staying at the city’s Upper Pontalba apartment overnight, council members plan to introduce a new ordinance in an attempt to take the apartment away from her.

Two members of the New Orleans City Council say Mayor Cantrell clearly violated a newly passed ordinance that outlines how she and future mayors are allowed to use the city-owned apartment.

During Essence Fest weekend, Mayor Cantrell spent two nights inside the apartment after her security detail wheeled in her luggage. That same long weekend, the mayor’s guests spent a total of five nights in the apartment.

“I really thought that we passed reasonable restrictions on the Pontalba apartment that a reasonable person would be able to follow,” Council Vice President Helena Moreno said. “From what I saw on your video, looks like apparently, that was violated when people are bringing in suitcases and things like that and staying through the night overnight. I think that it appears to be a violation.”

The council ordinance passed in April prohibits overnight stays.

“The whole idea here is to allow the mayor to use the Pontalba as a centerpiece to show off the French Quarter and how New Orleans is. But that came with limitations, including not spending the night. Everybody knows that. I don’t know how it can be misinterpreted,” Councilman Joe Giarrusso said.

Mayor Cantrell may have violated council ordinance with more overnight stays in Pontalba Apartment

During the heated April meeting, there were discussions about potentially revoking the apartment from the mayor and returning it to the French Market Corporation. However, an amendment introduced by Councilman Oliver Thomas allowed the mayor to retain the property, albeit with certain limitations.

“I thought we struck a good compromise by stating you couldn’t stay over and thought we spelled it out. But I guess the Mayor interpreted it another way or not at all,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Council President JP Morrell is now planning to introduce a new ordinance to once again try to take the apartment away from the mayor, which Moreno says will likely get the votes needed to pass. The council will vote on Morrell’s proposal on Aug. 10.

“Let’s be completely honest. She, at the end of the day, controls French Market Corporation,” Moreno explained. “So even if [the apartment] goes back to them, what does that really mean? I think we’ll continue to try to take steps to hold her accountable. But I feel like, at the end of the day, she seems to keep finding all these roundabouts.”

Video obtained by Fox 8 from a public-owned camera shows nine different times the mayor used motorcycle police escorts to take her and her guests in and out of the French Quarter, raising more questions.

“Why is that even necessary? If you’re just going from one party to the next? You know, why do you need officers to do that for you? I mean, just for your convenience. Why? Because you don’t want to be late to the party? You don’t want to be late to the Pontalba apartment? Like that just doesn’t make sense,” Moreno commented.

In response, the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) defended its actions, stating that Mayor Cantrell had multiple scheduled appearances that required navigating through heavy traffic congestion.

It remains unclear what scheduled appearances the mayor had at 1:54 a.m. Sun., July 2, when a police motorcycle escorted her SUV with guests into the French Quarter or at 1:26 a.m. on Mon., July 3.

The mayor’s office has refused to comment and would not confirm who the guests were or why they stayed at the apartment.


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“It’s a slap in the face, I think to the people of the city of New Orleans more than the council. Look, we pass the rules, we expect everybody else to follow them,” Giarrusso said. “What I always worry about is if government doesn’t follow certain rules, how can we expect other people to do it?”

“In the past year and a half, I think that the public can tell that it seems like we’re dealing with a mayor who just doesn’t care. And when that’s kind of the perception, or maybe the reality, that that’s being put out there from the very top, well, then it’s going to trickle all the way down,” Moreno said. “At the end of the day, someone has to be the adult in the room. And that’s going to have to be the city council to deal with these very significant issues facing our city.”

Both Moreno and Giarrusso say the misuse of the Pontalba is serious because the mayor is ignoring a council ordinance and possibly unnecessarily using police resources. They also say it’s a distraction from the pressing issues facing the city, such as crime, high assessments, rising insurance rates, and subpar city services.

“This is a mayor that has to make a hard choice right now as to what she wants her legacy to be,” Moreno continued. “Does she want her legacy to be one that just ignored all the rules, all the laws, went to a lot of parties, didn’t really care too much about doing the work? Or will she take this opportunity to pivot and to be serious, and to really get down on the trenches, and to really work hard for the people of this city, and all this other, you know, travel and fun stuff, and all the perks... put those aside? Because right now, we need a mayor. Right now we need a mayor to really take the bull by the horns and bring this city back and bring us to a place where it’s livable again because right now, many people are like, I just can’t live here anymore.”

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