The first woman to hold the job of New Orleans’ mayor since the city was founded 300 years ago was sworn in Monday.
LaToya Cantrell focused on the symbolic meaning of her winning the office in her inaugural speech. “We broke every kind of glass ceiling,” Cantrell told a jubilant crowd in the city’s Mahalia Jackson Theater. “After 300 years, don’t you think it’s about time a woman was in charge?”
Cantrell repeatedly said she’ll need the help of all residents to meet challenges that include addressing the needs of an aging city water, sewerage and storm drainage system and lagging economic opportunity for black people and businesses in a majority-black city. “Far too many of our people are still left behind,” said Cantrell, an African-American woman, originally from Los Angeles, who came to New Orleans to attend historically black Xavier University.
History also was made at the ceremony when City Council members were sworn in. One, Cindy Nguyen, is the first Vietnamese council member.
The ceremony was presided over by Donna Brazile, the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman and New Orleans native. It ended with Cantrell, elected officials and hundreds in the audience strolling out to brass band music in a traditional New Orleans “second line” parade.
Cantrell succeeds term-limited fellow Democrat Mitch Landrieu, whom she credited in her speech with bringing progress to the city he took over in 2010. She leaves behind a City Council post she won in 2012.
Before that, she was a neighborhood activist in the city’s Broadmoor area, which was among those hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She was widely credited with helping to scuttle a city proposal to turn the badly flooded area into green space.
She was elected mayor in November.
Her day began with a service at the historic St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter. Evening events include a reception for veterans at the National World War II Museum followed by the inaugural ball at Mardi Gras World, a venue on the Mississippi River where iconic Carnival season floats are stored.
Aside from infrastructure needs and a lingering crime problem, Cantrell also is dealing with an investigation of city finances. The probe by Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry began after Cantrell’s runoff opponent in November accused her of misusing her City Council credit card. The allegations didn’t stop her from winning 60 percent of the vote over Desiree Charbonnet, a member of a powerful New Orleans political family.
Landry said in a statement last week that his investigation is still active. That was followed by a statement from Cantrell communications director Beau Tidwell, which said that “contrary to what Landry’s statement insinuates, the findings of his staff completely exonerate Mayor-elect Cantrell.”