In 1840, New Orleans was the third largest city in the country. As a booming port city, New Orleans enjoyed incredible growth for decades due to increasing levels of commerce on the Mississippi River and its designation as the “Gateway to the Americas.”
The population of New Orleans continued to grow until 1960, when it peaked at 627,525 residents. At that time, it was the 15th largest city in the country.
Since then, New Orleans has been on a steady decline, both in economic activity and population. The destruction of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 contributed to the outflow of population from New Orleans. Prior to the devastating storm, 483,663 people lived in New Orleans. By 2021, the population had dropped to only 376,971.
Over the years, tax paying citizens left New Orleans for a variety of reasons, such as horrible infrastructure, inferior public schools, political corruption, and a lack of affordable housing. However, the biggest reason was the unacceptable amount of violent crime.
For years, there has been an inadequate level of public safety for the citizens of New Orleans and the tourists who visit. In 2022, there were 280 murders in New Orleans, the highest number since 1996. This level of violence earned the “Big Easy” the unfortunate title of “Murder Capital” of the nation last year.
According to Rafael Goyeneche, President of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, since 2019, the murder rate has increased 132%, while “shootings have increased 87%, carjackings have increased 167%, and armed robberies are up 21%.”
A significant factor in the crime increase is the revolving door criminal justice system with soft on crime liberal judges. Making matters worse is a progressive Orleans Parish District Attorney with a history of letting violent criminals back on the streets of the city.
For example, during the Mardi Gras season this year, 15 individuals arrested for illegal weapon violations were released by the District Attorney’s office, which “refused charges.” Goyeneche said he had “never seen this happen before” and the offenders were “released from custody with no bail.”
Such decisions by Orleans Parish prosecutors are surely infuriating the remaining police officers who are working long hours trying to compensate for a department that is smaller than ever. In a city that should have 1600 officers on the streets, the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) can barely claim a staff of 900 officers today. Goyeneche notes that one of the reasons there are too few police officers is that “pay raises that have been ignored for the past three years.”
The individual who should be blamed for the inadequate pay and the staffing problems with the NOPD is the same one who appoints the Police Chief, the Mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell.
The embattled Mayor was first elected in 2017 despite a controversy over the inappropriate use of city government credit cards while serving as a council member. During her first term, she faced criticism for her delayed response to the collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel in downtown New Orleans. She was also blasted for locking down the city during the COVID-19 pandemic and requiring masking and vaccine shots for residents and tourists.
The economic carnage caused by her pandemic policies was devastating. Nonetheless she was easily re-elected in 2021 over a dozen relatively unknown opponents.
Her second term has been marked by one controversy after another. She had to reimburse citizens for lavish travel expenses of first class airfare and five-star hotel accommodations. When she was not attending an international climate change conference or an Aspen Institute event out of town, Mayor Cantrell was spending plenty of “alone time” in a city owned apartment with one of the police officers assigned to guard her.
The police officer’s wife filed for divorce and in an amended petition mentioned Cantrell’s relationship with her husband as a reason for the break-up of their marriage.
With a focus on personal matters and luxurious travel, Mayor Cantrell has obviously been distracted from her many responsibilities as the political leader of New Orleans. This motivated a group of concerned citizens to launch a recall campaign against Mayor Cantrell in August of 2022.
To be successful, Louisiana state law requires recall leaders to collect signed petitions from 20% of the registered voters in New Orleans in a six-month period. Despite the challenges of multiple holidays and Cantrell’s retribution, recall organizers delivered boxes filled with signed petitions to the office of the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters last Wednesday.
The recall leaders are confident they have enough signed petitions to force a recall election. Unfortunately, the boxes of signed petitions were left “unguarded” on the floor of the registrar’s office for two days. Recall leaders are worried that there may have been tampering with the petitions.
There is also confusion over the actual number of registered voters in New Orleans. At the start of the recall, the initial number of registered voters provided by the Louisiana Secretary of State was over 266,000. Since that time, recall leaders have identified over 30,000 voters on the rolls that should be removed due to death, change of address, etc.
A lawsuit has been filed by the recall campaign to try to determine the true number of registered voters in New Orleans. This could have a major impact on whether they have enough signed petitions to force a recall election.
Even if the recall campaign is not successful, it has been the most positive political development in New Orleans in decades. Poor leadership has been a hallmark of New Orleans politics for generations. Finally, a political leader is paying a price for incompetence and neglect of the citizens of New Orleans.
The recall campaign could not have come at a more crucial time for New Orleans, which is facing its greatest challenges in its turbulent 305-year history. If Cantrell is recalled, all New Orleans politicians will be put on notice. If they don’t serve the public, there will finally be consequences.
To read more articles by Jeff Crouere click here.