ZURIK: Former mayor contradicts Mayor Cantrell’s claims about Pontalba apartment
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - After FOX 8 found Mayor LaToya Cantrell using a city-owned French Quarter apartment for personal use, the mayor repeatedly said she had the right to use the apartment and that her use was in-line with how other administrations used the apartment.
“I am utilizing the Pontalba apartment consistent with the guidelines as well as the uses, not only of previous mayors but also in my stead as the mayor of the city of New Orleans,” Cantrell said.
Cantrell has also claimed the taxpayer-owned apartment belongs to her, calling it “my apartment” in her recent state of the city address. A photo FOX 8 received also shows Cantrell has artwork hung in the apartment that features her last name.
However, FOX 8 reported through sources that other mayors used the apartment to entertain guests, hold meetings, and to occasionally spend the night if they needed to be in the French Quarter for city business.
Now, former Mayor Marc Morial has confirmed FOX 8′s reporting by going on the record with reporter Rob Masson to discuss how he used the apartment.
“It’s not meant to be a residence for the mayor, period,” said Morial, who served as mayor from 1994-2002. “It was intended to be a place to entertain a place for a guest to spend the night. Maybe a mayor could spend the night there here or there if it was necessary to make a public appearance in the area but it was never intended to be a residence for the mayor of the city of New Orleans.”
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FOX 8 reviewed more than 1,000 hours of video from a security camera operated by the French Market Corporation, which we received through a public records request. That camera was installed right outside the door to the apartment during Cantrell’s term. It gives a clear view of the balcony and door that leads to the apartment.
The video showed Cantrell spending many hours during the workday inside the apartment. More requests for public records showed she was doing little work during that time.
“I used it to entertain and several dignitaries stayed there. I remember mayor Maynard Jackson of Atlanta, who came down for Mardi Gras and could not find a hotel room and ended up with his wife staying at the Pontalba apartments. There were some other dignitaries who spent the night there, but generally it was a place used to entertain during French Quarter Fest, during Mardi Gras, during Essence fest, that was its primary use. It is not meant to be a residence for the mayor,” Morial said.
The New Orleans Office of Inspector General has launched an investigation into Cantrell’s use of the Pontalba.
Right now, no policy exists saying exactly what the apartment should be used for or who controls who stays there.
“While that is not a written rule, if the city was going to provide a residence for the mayor that’s tantamount to an additional benefit, which is subject to taxation, but that’s not the purpose,” said Morial.
Morial’s revelation of how his administration used the apartment has led a political analyst and a local crime watchdog to conclude Cantrell is not being honest with taxpayers.
“It would be very easy for the current mayor to get on the phone with previous mayors and ask them what the apartment was used for. That would be very easy. For some reason, she hasn’t. Even in the language, the whole language is problematic. I mean, publicly she keeps saying, ‘my apartment.’ It’s not her apartment. It’s the city’s apartment,” said Dr. Robert Collins, a Dillard University Political Analyst.
Rafael Goyeneche with the Metropolitan Crime Commission says the city of New Orleans doesn’t have a designated residence for the mayor.
“She’s not the president of the United States. That isn’t the White House. She’s not the governor of Louisiana. That isn’t the governor’s mansion. That’s the city’s apartment. According to the former mayor of the city of New Orleans, he never used it as a residence. That is just an apartment that’s available for occasional use, not in the method that she’s used it,” Goyeneche said.
In fact, Morial says he has no recollection of spending a single night at the apartment. Collins and Goyeneche believe it proves Cantrell’s use of the apartment is not in line with how it has been used by past administrations.
Along with being under investigation by the New Orleans Office of Inspector General, the FBI is also investigating thousands of dollars in purchases made by Cantrell’s stylist. Goyeneche believes that the FBI investigation could expand to include FOX 8′s findings.
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