New Orleans, Louisiana, USA : Latoya Cantrell, Democrat and former New Orleans city council member, defeated opponent Desiree Charbonnet a City Council member, Saturday, to emerge first female Mayor elect of New orleans.
“Almost 300 years, my friends. And New Orleans, we’re still making history,” Cantrell told a cheering crowd. The leader in most polls leading into the runoff election, she never trailed as votes were counted late Saturday.
Her runoff opponent, former municipal Judge Desiree Charbonnet, conceded the race and congratulated Cantrell late Saturday. Later, complete returns showed Cantrell with 60 percent of the vote.
“I do not regret one moment of anything about this campaign,” Charbonnet said.
The two women led a field of 18 in an October general election to win runoff spots.
Landrieu has gained credit for accelerating the recovery from Hurricane Katrina in an administration that can take credit for reduced blight, improvements in its celebrated tourism economy and economic development that included last week’s announcement that a digital services company is bringing 2,000 new jobs to the city.
Katrina was a theme in the backstory of both candidates. Cantrell moved to the city from California. Her work as a neighborhood activist in the aftermath of Katrina in the hard-hit Broadmoor neighborhood helped her win a seat on council in 2012.
Charbonnet, from a well-known political family in New Orleans, was the city’s elected recorder of mortgages before she was a judge. In the campaign she made a point of saying hers was the first city office to re-open after Katrina, providing critical property records to the displaced.
Cantrell entered the race as the perceived front-runner, leading in fundraising and in various polls. She had an 11 percentage point lead in a poll released last week by the University of New Orleans. It showed 46 percent of 602 voters surveyed from Nov. 1-8 favored Cantrell over Charbonnet, who had 35 percent; 20 percent were undecided.
Former state civil court Judge Michael Bagneris, who finished third in last month’s race, endorsed Cantrell, as did Troy Henry, a businessman who also ran for the post last month. UNO political science professor Edward Chervenak said the endorsements appeared to be helping Cantrell overcome revelations that she had used her city-issued credit card for thousands of dollars in purchases without clear indications that they were for public purposes. The money was eventually reimbursed but questions lingered about whether she had improperly used city money for personal or campaign expenditures.
LaToya Cantrell will succeed term-limited fellow Democrat Mitch Landrieu as the city celebrates its 300th anniversary next year.
Cantrell’s victory follows a wave of historic mayoral elections in recent weeks, including the city of Seattle electing its first lesbian mayor; Helena, Montana electing a Liberian immigrant as its mayor and the city of St. Paul, Minnesota electing its first African-American mayor in history.