Live City Check-in—One-on-One with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell

Joining CUI host Mary W. Rowe for our continuing one-on-one conversation series is LaToya Cantrell, Mayor of the City of New Orleans, LA.


5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. New Orleans, a model of resilience and recovery

Whether it is rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina or the decline of the local oil and gas industry, New Orleans and its people have first-hand experience of what resilience means. One of the nation’s hotspots in the early days of the pandemic and soon experiencing community spread, Mayor Cantrell spoke of the hard work that it took to flatten the curve and become a model of recovery. Testing rates that rival the best international examples are one of the keys to the improvement, but as in other challenges, Mayor Cantrell says that it is connectivity with people that is most important.

2. Disparities on display and the challenges ahead

Hurricane Katrina put the disparities in New Orleans on display. And now, says Mayor Cantrell, COVID-19 is putting the disparities in the U.S. on display. Existing and systemic inequalities have meant that Black populations have been disproportionately impacted by the health and economic effects of the pandemic. Mayor Cantrell is painfully aware of the 529 people that have died of COVID-19 in New Orleans; 402 of them are African American. When federal benefits are withdrawn at the end of July, many will face significant hardship and Mayor Cantrell is looking to “saturate the worst hit communities with support”.

3. Moving beyond monument removal

COVID-19’s exposure of racial injustice has tied into the civil unrest in response to the murder of George Floyd. During another period of similar unrest, the previous mayor responded by removing four monuments to Confederate era figures and events. This time, Mayor Cantrell sees that the response is different, and the call for change is coming “from the bottom up”. There is an opportunity for this community process to go further towards real reconciliation, healing and reform. New Orleans has been an early supporter of the #8CantWait movement and is a model of police reform through greater community investment.

 4. Cities as islands and the importance of local leadership  

The impact of COVID-19 has hit New Orleans much harder than any other part of the state of Louisiana and the City’s response has had to be much more restrictive in order to successfully flatten the curve, making New Orleans something of an island. Mayor Cantrell’s focus on “keeping the city safe” and making sure front-line workers have what they need has been a success despite the lack of a national framework. Mayor Cantrell is clear that when responding to the challenges of a pandemic, “leadership matters” and most of that has had to come from the local level.

5. “This is our time”

When asked about whether a “new normal” is coming to New Orleans following the pandemic, Mayor Cantrell responded with conviction that “this is our time”. As a destination city, and in particular in its fabled French Quarter, tourism and hospitality have been important economic drivers, but now Mayor Cantrell is looking at a recovery that includes a transition to other industries and brings back the locals to the Quarter, starting with a move to ban cars. With no big businesses centered in New Orleans, the economy is driven by families and small businesses and this is where support will be focused.