New City Leadership Represents Firsts for City, State and Nation
by Anitra D. Brown
Earlier this month, a new mayor, members of the City Council and other city-wide leaders—some new, some returning—were officially sworn in. At the same time, New Orleans celebrated a number of milestones as it continues to commemorate the 300th anniversary of its founding.
In Mayor LaToya Cantrell, New Orleans now has the first woman to ever serve as mayor in the city’s 300-year history. As it has been noted, Mayor Cantrell’s election represents a recent wave of women, and Black women, in particular, assuming the top leadership position in some of America’s largest cities. Currently, 20 of America’s 100 largest cities are led by women and with Mayor Cantrell’s inauguration, six of those 20 cities are now led by Black women. She is also now one of three Black women to lead major cities in the state along with Shreveport’s Mayor Ollie Tyler and Baton Rouge’s Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, who is also one of the six Black women leading one of the nation’s largest cities.
Meanwhile, District E City Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen is the first Vietnamese American to serve on the Council.
Coroner Dr. Dwight McKenna, a long-time New Orleans physician and executive publisher of The New Orleans Tribune, has become the first African-American elected coroner in the city and state and only the second Black person to be elected coroner in the nation.
With the diversity reflected in the new leadership of the city, it seems Mayor Cantrell was spot on in her inauguration speech (the entirety of which is printed in this issue of The New Orleans Tribune).
A City Open to All
Her words centered on unity. In her first official speech as Mayor, Cantrell echoed the theme of all of New Orleans, moving forward—together.
“We are here today, at a historic moment, not to look back at the 300 years behind us— but to look forward, to the days and years ahead that each one of us is shaping. And making it not about how the world views us at 300, but how we see ourselves, one another–worthy of a clean city, worthy of good paying jobs and opportunities, worthy of quality affordable housing. I can go on and on because you deserve it.
Today is the beginning. Today is the first day of what’s next — the first day of a new era for our city, a city open to all. A city that embraces everyone, and gives every one of her children a chance…We are going to embrace all families, regardless of what that family looks like.”
Of course, for much of Black New Orleans the measure of just how successful the Cantrell administration and the entirety of the city’s current leadership are will come down to issues of equity and inclusion for the most marginalized and disenfranchised among us.
It should be noted that Mayor Cantrell won last November’s runoff election with 69 percent of the Black vote. So for Black folk in New Orleans to look to this new administration (or any administration for that matter as the Black vote is often key to winning in New Orleans) for solutions, plans and programs that address their communities’ varied and urgent needs is fair.
As a publication devoted to serving as an unfettered voice to, for and about Black New Orleans, The New Orleans Tribune has repeatedly reported and shared the statistics that paint a picture of uneven conditions for Black folk in the city—from high, double-digit unemployment rates among working-age Black men to disparate poverty rates and dissimilar income earnings between Blacks and Whites to inequities in economic development, access to housing, the criminal justice system and more.
To be sure, it will take more than a spirit of togetherness to move all of New Orleans forward. Acknowledging the inequities and disparities are a must. And intentional action that addresses the inequities and disparities created by systemic and institutional racism is required.
She Gets It, It Seems
One positive sign is that the new Mayor understands as much. She referenced the city’s recently released Disparities Study and the work of local organizations like The Collaborative to highlight inequities in economic development in both public and private spending.
“We’re are going to move our city forward so that everyone has a fair shake, a fair chance,” Mayor Cantrell said, addressing the crowd gathered at the recent 2018 New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce Luncheon. “We have work to do, not only in the Cantrell administration, but with new leadership across the board and with new partnerships to ensure that we are not only talking about equity but that we get there together.”
Mayor Cantrell even noted how she is looking at some things closer and with a keener awareness as she settles into office. While speaking to the crowd at NORBC meeting, she refers to having to sign paperwork recently to order new business cards and taking the time to note the company that held the contract to produce them.
“I am looking at the little things as well as the big things to ensure that all people get the opportunity,” she said, though coming short of stating the name of the company with the contract to print the business cards or whether it is a DBE.
Of course, this is just the beginning. And business cards are arguably a small thing.
Still, the small things matter, and there will be time along the way and certainly at the end of Mayor Cantrell’s term to determine just how effectively the race and class inequities that beset our city were addressed by her administration and others in leadership roles. To be sure, it does not all fall on her shoulders. But as the mayor, she must set the tone and example that others both in government and in the business community will follow.
She made a powerful promise during her inauguration speech, saying “I vow to each of you, standing here today before God Almighty: I will spend every breath and every moment of the next four years proving you made the right choice.”
The plan here at The New Orleans Tribune is to support her in every way we can, applauding efforts and progressive policies that deliver what is needed to those who need it most, offering constructive and fair criticism when efforts fall short.
Good luck and Congratulations Mayor Cantrell! And God Bless New Orleans!