New Orleans Mayor Says She Won’t Reimburse the City for More Than $30,000 in First Class Travel Expenses

Mayor LaToya Cantrell insists her safety as a Black woman and the COVID-19 epidemic required the expenses while on city business.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell is in a dispute with the city over what they allege are over-the-top travel expenses because she travels first-class while on city business. The law requires that city employees pay the city the difference for upgraded fare, but Cantrell says she will not pay back the money because of her safety concerns as a Black woman in the public eye and also due to the Covid-19 epidemic.

CNN reported in a statement distributed to multiple news outlets in New Orleans, Cantrell wrote: “Anyone who wants to question how I protect myself just doesn’t understand the world Black women walk in.” Cantrell continued, “My travel accommodations are a matter of safety, not of luxury. As all women know, our health and safety are often disregarded, and we are left to navigate alone.”

The mayor’s spending is estimated to be in excess of $30,000 more than city policy allows employees to spend. Cantrell has insisted that all expenses, including flights and accommodations are necessary for her mayoral duties to New Orleans.

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The mayor offered some explanation about how her safety as a Black woman necessitates tens of thousands of dollars in plane tickets alone. In an interview with local New Orleans station WDSU Cantrell said the COVID-19 epidemic was a main reason.

“There were some things that changed due to COVID,” she explained. “One, me flying with security, and my seat assignment – absolutely tied to my health and my well-being. No doubt about that. In addition to that…many may not know some of the levels of anxiety that I do have, however, COVID, I had to pivot, and I’ve had to pivot with making sure I’m traveling with security. So I cannot walk that back because my health and well being is a priority.”

WDSU found in a public records request that Cantrell’s July flight to France to attend events to promote New Orleans totaled $17,854.57 just for her airfare. Her security person and two other staffers flew economy on the same flight.

A trip to sign a sister city agreement with the resort town of Antibes, France, cost New Orleans taxpayers some $43,000. The investigation further found that a June trip to Switzerland to promote an event similar to the New Orleans Jazz-Fest cost $10,000 for Cantrell’s airfare, and another $6,000 for airfare and hotel for the mayor and a pair of her staffers.

WVUE interviewed New Orleans Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montano, who told the television station that the city is still reviewing if the mayor will need to reimburse the city for nearly $30,000.

However, Cantrell is steadfast in her position.  She said at a recent news conference, “All expenses incurred doing business on behalf of the city of New Orleans will not be reimbursed to the city of New Orleans,” the mayor said. “One thing is clear; I do my job and I will continue to do it with distinction and integrity every step of the way.”

Responding to news inquiries around the mayor’s travel expenses, a spokesperson for the New Orleans City Council president said the council passed an ordinance in early August to ”curb City spending on services and initiatives which do not have immediate benefits to the people of New Orleans; and curtailing City funded travel expenses is one way that city leadership can relieve strain on City resources.”

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