NOLA Mayor LaToya Cantrell defends using taxpayer's $30K for first-class flights, says economy 'UNSAFE' for black women
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: The Democrat mayor of New Orleans has refused to repay $30,000 of taxpayers' money she splurged on first-class plane tickets to France and Switzerland after declaring that economy class flights are "unsafe" for black women.
LaToya Cantrell, 50, has refused to repay the expenses of a first-class American Airlines flight she took from Washington Dulles Airport to Switzerland in July despite a city ban on luxury air travel. The mayor reportedly spent around $10,000 on her own flat-bed seat and blew a similar amount on a first-class return to France in early 2022. Meanwhile, her aides and security detail traveled in coach. Cantrell has remained defiant in the face of a backlash, defending her luxury tickets by stating that she was "doing business" on behalf of the city and that it wouldn't be safe for her to travel coach.
"My travel accommodations are a matter of safety, not of luxury," Cantrell said at a press conference on Thursday, September 8, 2022. "As all women know, our health and safety are often disregarded and we are left to navigate alone. As the mother of a young child whom I live for, I am going to protect myself by any reasonable means in order to ensure I am there to see her grow into the strong woman I am raising her to be," the mayor said. She added, "Anyone who wants to question how I protect myself just doesn't understand the world black women walk in."
According to the Chief Administrative Officer, the law department is examining whether the mayor must reimburse nearly $30,000 in taxpayer funds for her first-class flights to France and Switzerland. Cantrell had a rather peevish response when journalists asked her whether she was considering replenishing the city's offers.
"All expenses incurred doing business on behalf of the city of New Orleans will not be reimbursed to the city of New Orleans," she told reporters outside the Nix Library. "One thing is clear; I do my job and I will continue to do it with distinction and integrity every step of the way. And so, that's what I have to say on that!" she added.
At yesterday’s press conference, @FOX8NOLA was the only station that asked Mayor LaToya Cantrell about whether or not she will reimburse thousands of dollars to the city for her travel upgrades.— Andrés Fuentes (@news_fuentes) September 9, 2022
Here’s her full statement: pic.twitter.com/swA2flFIkc
Cantrell insisted that her luxury trips are necessary in order to better New Orleans, but her notion is at odds with the city's travel policy, which clearly states, "Employees are required to purchase the lowest airfare available…Employees who choose an upgrade from coach, economy, or business class flights are solely responsible for the difference in cost."
The policy also dictates that "any reconciliation of travel expenses that results in overpayment by the City requires that the employee reimburse the City within twenty business days."
Speaking to Fox 8, Cantrell's staff members said they were "checking" to see if the city policy applies to the mayor, who is an elected official and not technically hired by the city itself. "I think that's still under review with law kind of determining the variations between the CAO policy, the elected official policy, and the different variations," Chief Administrative Officer for the city Gilbert Montaño said. "There's no ultimate conclusion at this current moment. Right now it's in law, and we are evaluating it and I think there would be a determination sooner rather than later."
The mayor reportedly spent more than $2,300 in January 2022 to fly first class to a Conference of Mayors' meeting in Washington, DC. Meanwhile, her entourage paid $250.
In March, Cantrell spent more than $2,800 to fly first-class to Miami for yet another US Conference of Mayors gathering. That is nine times more than the $342 fare NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson paid.
Meanwhile, other staffers paid $677 to take the trip. What's more? Cantrell and three of her top aides jetted to France in the summer, spending more than $40,000 on travel alone. At the time, she defended her action by drawing on the city's heritage. "You're talking about France, from which we've come, meaning part of the fabric of the City Of New Orleans. You're talking about France, that has an ambassador living in the city of New Orleans," the mayor said during an August press conference.
It's also worth noting that Cantrell's flight cost $11,000 more than the equivalent economy class ticket purchased by her communications officer Gregory Joseph. "I do travel business class, absolutely. I need to be protected. ... I need to be safe as I do business on behalf of the city of New Orleans," she insisted.
When @mayorcantrell was asked was spending over $17,000 flying first class and business necessary for her sister city trip to France she says it’s a part of doing business as the mayor and needed for her safety. 👇🏻 @wdsu pic.twitter.com/1zXdJrdhVd— Cassie Schirm (@Cassiewdsu) August 24, 2022
The mayor did not waste time after returning from France. She was back across the pond just one week after her arrival, this time to Ascona, Switzerland, to sign a "sister city" agreement. Her flight cost was more than $9,800 and she reportedly spent more than $11,000 on the six-day trip, 4WWL reported.