The mayor of New Orleans is under fire for taking tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money to travel first-class to France and Switzerland. At a press conference, the elected officials said she could not take economy class because certain commercial flights are often unsafe for Black women.
At a press conference on Thursday, Sept. 8, the Big Easy’s top executive, Mayor Latoya Cantrell, gave her reasoning for refusing to pay back $29,000 of the city’s budget for her travel to the European countries.
In a clip from her remarks, she said, “All expenses incurred doing business on behalf of the city of New Orleans, will not be reimbursed to the city of New Orleans. One thing is clear, I do my job.”
Standing outside of the Nix Library, Cantrell, dressed in a blue dress suit, simple earrings, and necklace, further said, “I will continue to do it with distinction, dignity, and integrity, every step of the way.
According to the Daily Mail, Cantrell explained why she flew first class from Washington Dulles Airport to Switzerland on her municipality’s dime.
“My travel accommodations are a matter of safety, not of luxury. As all women know, our health and safety are often disregarded, and we are left to navigate alone.” she informed the media, “As the mother of a young child whom I live for, I am going to protect myself by any reasonable means in order to ensure I am there to see her grow into the strong woman I am raising her to be.”
“Anyone who wants to question how I protect myself just doesn’t understand the world Black women walk in,” the mayor stated.
The city’s travel policy states, “Employees are required to purchase the lowest airfare available.”
It further states, “Employees who choose an upgrade from coach, economy or business class flights are solely responsible for the difference in cost. … Any reconciliation of travel expenses that results in overpayment by the City requires that the employee reimburse the City within twenty business days.”
It is unclear if these policy rules apply to the mayor, who spent approximately $10,000 to travel in a flat bed seat to Europe and almost the same on a tribute to France earlier in the summer. The city-employed aides, who traveled with her, had seats in the coach section of the flights.
She stated, “I do travel business class, absolutely. I need to be protected. … I need to be safe as I do business on behalf of the city of New Orleans.”
The controversy has had critics pushing back on all of her trips this year.
Cantrell spent over $2,300 for flying first-class to the Conference of Mayors in January in Washington, D.C. Those who traveled with her paid $250 for their travel.
Two months later, she spent more than $2,800 for a first-class trip to Miami for a U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering, nine times more than the $342 fare NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson paid for her travel.
Her two European trips during the summer cost the city more than $40,000 for Mayor Cantrell, and three of her top aides’ travel. She says she went to the country to make a connection between the Southern city and its French roots.
‘You’re talking about France, from which we’ve come, meaning part of the fabric of the city of New Orleans. You’re talking about France, that has an ambassador living in the city of New Orleans,” Cantrell said during an August press conference.
The mayor was not the only person traveling first class. So was her communication officer, Gregory Joseph, whose flight accommodation landed at around $11,000.
A week later, after returning from France to New Orleans, she went back to Ascona, Switzerland, to sign a “Sister City” agreement between the two metropolises. Her flight to the city was $9,800 and $11,000 in expenses for the six-day trip.
Gilbert Montaño, the city’s chief administrative officer, said the office is “checking” to see if the executive is in violation of any laws. While they are researching, he said, “I think that’s still under review with law kind of determining the variations between the CAO policy, the elected official policy, and the different variations.”
“There’s no ultimate conclusion at this current moment,” he stated. “Right now, it’s in law, and we are evaluating it and I think there would be a determination sooner rather than later.”
This is not the first time she has been accused of using taxpayers’ dollars for her own personal gain.
WDSU reports in 2019, New Orleans paid thousands of dollars for Cantrell and her staff to go to Ghana for an Essence event. This happened simultaneously when she was being investigated by the City Council for misusing her city-issued credit card. She was said to have charged $9,000 dollars for food and other expenses, including personal shopping at multiple Walmart retail stores.
One community member said at a City Council meeting about her spending, “It’s a shame that our mayor takes lavish vacations on the taxpayers’ money while people are dying in the city of crime.”
Robert Collins, the public policy professor at Dillard University, said he believes Cantrell is an employee of the city because she gets paid by the city.
“It’s sort of like saying the president of the United States is not an employee of the federal government. He draws a salary, of course, he is,” Collins said.
“It’s like saying the governor of Louisiana is not an employee of state government. Of course, he is,” he rationalizes. “He is the CEO of the state government. So, to pretend there is some sort of legal difference between an elected official who draws a salary from a government agency and an employee of that government agency, I think it’s problematic.”