London, Ontario Initiated referendums and recall petitions were some of the great reforms of the Progressive Era in the United States one-hundred years ago. In some states and many cities, these reforms have lasted since then, even if rarely used, offering some measure of accountability by citizens to protect themselves from malfeasance or abuse. In other cases, the strength of local machines by parties or particular politicians managed to evade these reforms, or in many cases water them down over the decades by making access harder, signature thresholds more daunting, or timelines narrower for petitioning. Power often does as power wants.
We are seeing an interesting new tactic in New Orleans, fueled as much by unlimited sums of moola, as by anger and frustration at our local mayor in her second term, LaToya Cantrell, the first African-American woman in the office. Although we are a Black-majority city, the recall effort seems to have been birthed in the largely white in-city suburbs along Lake Ponchartrain sometimes also using a zany, but failed, Black former candidate to help front the effort.
There’s no doubt the mayor faces some headwinds. Construction projects on streets and sewer have faced interminable delays riling up many residents and forcing the mayor to bring in folks to better manage the problems. Utility prices are rising. The Covid-economy was unfriendly to this convention and tourism dependent city as well, creating opposition for the mayor, faced with the same thankless tasks as many elected leaders have faced around the world. This is a naturally contentious city, quick to anger and long on grievance, so she had some unhappy campers, just as they all do. It goes with the job in New Orleans.
Mayor Cantrell hasn’t helped her case either. She often acted cavalierly or with impunity. Inexplicable and indefensible foreign travel in first class seats to puny sister towns with side trips to Paris didn’t help, which for the longest time in our lower income city, she tried ridiculously to defend and finally agreed to pay back. There’s some other dustup around a personal shopper that I can’t follow well enough to detail. Fights with the former sheriff and the city council have been bitter and in fact the council has pushed back, winning a referendum that now gives them review and veto power over mayoral appointments. Like I said, she’s done her part to make this bed.
The threshold for recall is high and its backers, after the usual, early surge, reported only being about 30% to their goal. The mayor likely wasn’t happy about this, but probably wasn’t losing too much sleep, but now deep pockets have come to the rescue. The recall folks sent out a mailing to ALL registered voters with a copy of the petition and the voter’s name, address and other details required already preprinted. I know, because I’m looking at mine now, even while I’m in Canada, having grabbed my mail as I ran for the airport. It requires my John Hancock of course and, importantly, a witness signature, who is also a registered voter in Orleans Parish. There’s another sheet authorizing the terrible-twosome to get all of this before the governor. They even, wisely, included a pre-paid envelope so that the petition could be mailed into the organizers. All of that takes a pile of dough to get done, but I’ve got to admit, it’s a smart and potentially very effective tactic for advancing a recall petition, if you have such deep-pocketed backers.
Personally, I won’t be signing. I think the mayor has made some bonehead moves on the personal side, but she was only elected to her second term fairly recently and in my book, she hasn’t been that bad, and certainly in the actual performance of her duties has not been deserving of recall. I worry that she has been hurt most by her opponents’ racism and misogyny, that she abetted with her own arrogance and rigidity. It just grates on me that racism, misogyny, and big money might have more voice than the rest of us in the city. I’m all for holding the mayor’s feet to the fire, and I’m ready to wag my finger in her face with the best of them, but that’s just not the kind of company that I want to keep.