By Edwin Buggage, Editor
On the eve of the Mayor’s Annual Mardi Gras Ball Data News Weekly sat down with New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell, where she spoke to Editor, Edwin Buggage and Publisher, Terry Jones regarding a host of issues on this day.
As we entered Mayor Cantrell greeted us like she always does as family members. Speaking with her is less like an interview and more like speaking to a relative or friend at a dinner table. The Mayor is one who is well studied and abreast on the issues. And in her first few months in office she has proven to be the fighter for people from all zip codes. This is one of the things that’s endeared her to the citizens of New Orleans that elected her as she continues her historic reign as the first Woman Mayor of New Orleans.
Fair Share and Infrastructure Improvements
In the forefront of her agenda was her ‘Fair Share Initiative.’ Cantrell said, “We need to get our fair share of revenue from the state and business community to help rebuild the City’s infrastructure problems.” With a sense of urgency in her voice she says, “We’ve kicked that can down the road and it can’t go any further.”
One project she spoke of pressing concern was Sewerage and Water Board, “All of reserves being spent before our administration upwards to 85 million dollars. Right now we are asking for 75 million dollars to repair,, in some cases, 100 year old drains. This is something that as many of our citizens know affects our quality of life and our safety as well.”
She is seeking the help of all stakeholders to come up with creative solutions to solve the infrastructure problem. Recently the mayor reached out to Governor Edwards asking him to create a task force that would look at the issues surrounding re-directing revenues to New Orleans towards infrastructure projects and to re-convene in 30 days with a decision.
Mayor Cantrell is also the Co-Chair on Infrastructure for the National Conference of Mayors with Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles. She is taking a holistic view of infrastructure improvements. “We need to look at infrastructure as our top priority. It is one of the lessons we should have learned post Katrina.” Continuing she says, “We must focus on potholes, the green water management plan, and transportation accessibility. This is not only just common sense, it also makes good business sense.”
Equity and Opportunity for All
As the City possibly has more infrastructure projects coming down the pipeline, it is important that more minorities are able to access contracting and employment opportunities.
Mayor Cantrell speaks optimistically about what she believes is possible in this area. Speaking enthusiastically she says, “The City of N.O. already have a mandated 35% DBE minority participation. But in the case of Sewerage and Water Board they do not have a mandated 35 percent it has a greater flexibility. I think this can be a great opportunity to move more minority based firms to become prime contractors.”
In a City that even in the face of some demographic shifts in certain neighborhoods still is a majority Black City. But when it comes to contracting and business opportunities it is often a tale of two cities. Where the pendulum of prosperity often swings one way. Mayor Cantrell believes that expanding access and helping minority business build capacity to become prime contractors could be a win-win for the City. “We have an opportunity to do more and to create more equity in our city. We cannot get tunnel vision and focus on 35% when structuring these projects. I feel we can be more ambitious where we can do both.”
Black and Woman: Mayor Cantrell and Her Place in History
On this day we speak to the Mayor we are nearing the end of Black History Month and nearing the beginning of Women’s History Month. In our nation and in our City, we are at a watershed moment and as Latoya Cantrell is making history as the City’s first woman mayor; in addition to being an African-American holds special significance.
“Making history as our first woman mayor in our city in 300 years awesome responsibility and knowing I might be the first, but will not be the last,” she says with a smile and sense of accomplishment and triumph. Understanding her role in being a trailblazer bringing hope to generations of other women that they can achieve greatness. “I realize the significance of my election and breaking the ceiling, but the most satisfying part is that it is not just about me but it can inspire so many other women.”
Understanding the challenges of how her leadership will be measured being the first is something she understands, but is poised to face the challenge. Something she’s proven more than cut out for since Hurricane Katrina showing she is a leader that can bring people from various constituencies together under one umbrella. “This is a great time not just for me but other women to show we can lead as executives. Also it speaks to our ability to build consensus that will not just uplift women, but our community as a whole.”
This article originally appeared in the New Orleans Data News Weekly.