LaToya Cantrell’s recall campaign is fueled by social media; organizers face long odds | Local policy

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For Raymond Butler, it’s Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s recent overseas trips, flying first class and staying in fancy hotels.

For David Woods, road construction never seems to stop – three years in the case of his Rue du Faubourg Saint-Jean.

For Tamika Carter, it was the two shootings outside her Bywater home.

“She doesn’t mind business here,” said Carter, a mother of 11.

Thousands of frustrated New Orleans voters are venting their anger at Cantrell as they rush to sign a recall petition just a year after winning a second term with 64% of the vote.






Mayor LaToya Cantrell




The recall organizers appear to be community activists and residents who have recently taken to social media while expressing deep frustration with the city’s leadership. They have no clear connection to the business leaders or elected officials who have clashed with Cantrell, though some of the mayor’s allies cast suspicion on the effort.

Stunned by their initial success, recall leaders predict they will collect the roughly 53,000 signatures needed over the next six months to call an election that would ask New Orleans voters if they want to send the mayor packing. .

But the odds of simply collecting signatures, let alone winning a recall election, are extraordinarily long. In fact, no big-city mayor or parish president has been recalled to Louisiana since at least 1966, according to the secretary of state’s office.

“Hard to Hold”

Political consultant Karen Carvin Shachat knows the difficulties they face. She helped strategize during the last major recall effort, against Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni in 2016 and 2017.

This campaign began with a burst of energy generated by outrage over reports that Yenni had sent sexually explicit text messages to a teenager. He raised $125,000 to promote the petition campaign.

But organizers admitted defeat 20 days before the deadline, having collected only about 55% of the necessary signatures – and these had not even been verified as Jefferson Parish voters.

“The most passionate came out that first weekend and that second weekend,” Shachat said. “But it’s hard to hold.”

The key question for the future is whether the organizers of this recall – led by former Cantrell assistant Eileen Carter and community activist and perennial candidate Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste – can maintain the momentum. Political and business leaders say figures who could raise money or bring credibility to the campaign are holding back. They seem suspicious because the campaign is already creating racial and social divisions along familiar fault lines. Cantrell is the city’s first black female mayor.

Cantrell, a Democrat, relied on that pedigree in her initial response to the recall. Her campaign manager, Maggie Carroll, called the recall a “Republican-backed maneuver” aimed at undermining a black woman. The mayor’s team offered no evidence of an organized Republican effort behind the recall, only that some Republicans are helping the campaign. Gregory Joseph, the mayor’s spokesman, did not answer the phone on Friday.

Carroll also said the mayor deserves credit for leading the city through the pandemic and Hurricane Ida, and overseeing “historic investments in streets, drainage, parks and early childhood education.” .

Shachat said the organizers against Cantrell had one and possibly two advantages over the anti-Yenni campaign. The most obvious is that the bar for a recall is now significantly lower, requiring the signatures of 20% of registered voters instead of 33%.

Shachat also noted that the anger towards Yenni was mostly centered around an incident from her past. His management of the parish did not arouse controversy.

Cantrell, meanwhile, regularly supplies ammunition to her critics. Most notably, she’s taken two expensive trips to Europe as New Orleans appears to be on track to once again become the country’s murder capital. She also showed her support for a teenage carjacker in court in a move that shocked the child’s victims.

“You might continue to get news that bothers people,” said Carvin, who served as a campaign strategist for Cantrell when she was first elected mayor in 2017 but is not involved in the campaign. reminder.

A boost from talk radio

If the organizers collect enough signatures and voters then approve the recall, the city council would elect one of the at-large members – JP Morrell or Helena Moreno – as acting mayor. A special election would then be called to fill Cantrell’s term.

Both Morrell and Moreno said it was up to citizens to decide whether or not to bring forward the recall, while saying it reflected public anger over the situation in the city.

It was Newell Normand who helped ignite the spark that ignited the recall campaign. Normand, who spent 10 years as sheriff of Jefferson Parish, now has a talk show schedule on WWL-AM radio.

On August 17, Normand, after saying he had thought about the mayor’s “failures” over the weekend, read a list of 14 reasons why Cantrell should be recalled.

“People are fed up,” Normand said in an interview. “They want their streets emptied, their trash picked up, the police to respond quickly. I can hardly go anywhere without people stopping me and asking, “What can we do? How can we turn the tide?’ »

Among those who heard Normand’s comments on the radio was Eileen Carter, a 43-year-old business consultant who is a younger sister of former state senator Karen Carter Peterson.

Carter worked for Cantrell for most of her first term, managing the mayor’s posts on Twitter and Facebook, but then taking sick leave because she felt overwhelmed by workplace stress caused by the pandemic. During that leave, Carter said, the mayor once scolded him for accompanying his sister to a political event.

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“She berates people,” Carter said. “And that’s his style of government.”

Listening to Norman requesting a callback, Carter thought, “It really is possible. The level of chatter occurs.

Carter and Batiste then connected on Instagram. They both said they didn’t know each other well.

Batiste, 48, a flag boy in an Indian Mardi Gras band, had been saying for months that Cantrell needed to be recalled. Batiste was one of 13 people who challenged the mayor when she ran for re-election. He refused to fundraise and finished fourth with 5% of the vote.

Batiste also ran a quixotic campaign in the 2021 special election for Congress. He gained attention after Jay Banks, then a member of the city council, showed up at his house one day to complain about Batiste’s comments about an ally, and the two men had a falling out. The police were called.

Ironically, Banks’ ally was Congressional candidate Peterson.

Carter said she had no discussions with her sister – who recently pleaded guilty to voter fraud and is awaiting sentencing – about the recall.

Carter and Batiste, who are Democrats, formalized their complaints against Cantrell by filing documents with the secretary of state on Aug. 26.

“People showed up like crazy”

This news caught the attention of Angele Dassel, a fifth-generation New Orleans resident who had become so discouraged that she was considering leaving town.

Dassel had just called for a recall effort on the neighborhood app, Nextdoor, and created a website, nolatoya.org.

Dassel was in contact with Carter. She and a few friends organized a signature-raising effort on Aug. 28 outside Madame Mae’s, a popular bar at the busy intersection of Avenue Napoleon and Rue Magazine.

Dassel, who said she hasn’t been involved in politics, thought a few people might show up.

Instead, “people showed up like crazy,” Dassel said, garnering 870 signatures.

Previously, a technician showed Dassel a key way to limit the number of invalid signatures using a QR code, similar to what a restaurant might use to access a restaurant menu. The QR code allows those collecting signatures to use cell phones to link potential signers to the Secretary of State’s election portal and determine if they actually live in Orleans Parish. If they do, the website provides the voter’s ward and precinct numbers, which the petition requires.

A Lakeview resident named Shannon Assaf also heard about the recall and decided to hold a signature drive Aug. 30 outside Robert’s supermarket on Allen Toussaint Avenue.

A Saints fan who moved to New Orleans from Hattiesburg six years ago, Assaf announced his event on social media, telling people to look for black and gold balloons and a hand-painted sign.

Assaf, too, was overwhelmed with registrations, 2,100 in all. As with the event at Ms. Mae’s, most of the people in line were white.

Cantrell supporters, trying to undermine the recall campaign in a majority Democratic city, pointed out that Normand and Assaf are registered Republicans. Dassel too.

They all say it doesn’t matter.

Normand added that he does not know the two women.

And after

Carter said the recall campaign is fielding organizers in each of the city council’s five districts, plans to hire a political strategist and pollster, and hopes to raise at least $250,000. She said they plan to create a political action committee that will publicly report on all expenses and contributions, with no limit on how much each can donate.

The deadline for submitting signatures is February 22, the day after Mardi Gras. The voter registration office would have 20 days to determine if they met the 20% threshold. If they did, the election on whether to recall Cantrell would take place as early as April 29 or no later than October 14.

The fact that organizers only need 20% of registered voters — instead of 33% — is due to a 2018 law sponsored by state Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Covington. He wanted to lower the barrier after a 2013 effort to collect enough signatures to recall St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan from falling short. (Galvan later pleaded guilty and spent two years in prison.)

Cantrell recall organizers held another event Friday outside the 7th Ward home of Byron Cole, who won 1% of the vote in the 2020 mayoral election.

Three more events took place on Saturday, with at least six more to come in the following days.

“We would like her to become a better mayor and unite the city,” said Eileen Carter. “But I didn’t see that turnaround in her.”

Staff reporter Ben Myers contributed to this article.

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