Grace Notes: LaToya Cantrell has a Ray Nagin moment (and no, not in the criminal way)

By Stephanie Grace

Source: The Advocate

September 19, 2018

Speaking at a Tuesday morning briefing hosted by the Bureau of Governmental Research, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell answered a question over the long-shuttered Municipal Auditorium with what sounded like a pretty enthusiastic pitch for relocating City Hall there. The current City Hall is outdated and sits on valuable real estate, she said, and the Municipal Auditorium, located in Armstrong Park and basically untouched since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, has lots of parking.

Next came the tweets, preliminary headlines, and questions, including the big one: So what’s the plan?

It turns out there isn’t a plan, not even a tentative one.

Instead, Chief Administrative Officer Gilberto Montaño explained later in the day to The New Orleans Advocate’s Jeff Adelson, the city has launched a process to explore moving the city seat to any number of locations, the old civic center being just one of them. Also in play is the former Charity Hospital, another iconic building that’s been out of commission since the storm, although officials have voiced skepticism over this option recently.

“Nothing is ruled out, and nothing is higher on the list than others,” Montaño said.

Like others, Cantrell pitches City Hall move; Navy compound, Municipal Auditorium are options
The most recent vision for old Charity Hospital: see details, renderings, finances, more
Following the story through the day, I couldn’t help thinking that Cantrell was having a Ray Nagin moment.

I’m not talking about anything untoward, and certainly nothing like the behavior that landed the former mayor in federal prison. But criminality aside, Nagin also had a habit of getting ahead of himself in public, of suggesting that ideas were much better developed than they actually were. Selling the airport, bottling and selling Sewerage & Water Board water, and taking over the Orleans Parish school system’s troubled finances were a few such examples. Another, later in Nagin’s tenure, involved moving City Hall to the old Chevron building downtown, which the City Council ultimately shot down.

I wrote at the time that this never would have happened under Nagin’s predecessor Marc Morial, who was far more likely to make sure he had his ducks in a row — and his votes counted — before going public.

Cantrell is following a mayor with a style similar to Morial’s, Mitch Landrieu, and that surely influences expectations. People have gotten used to proposals they hear from the mayor being more fully baked.

None of this will have any long-lasting effect on the future of City Hall, which is indeed a high priority, but there is a lesson for Cantrell to learn: Whenever the mayor, any mayor, talks, people definitely listen.

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