Gambit Commentary: A note to our readers
December 9, 2020
We find ourselves in the uncomfortable, but necessarily so, position of having to start this week’s Commentary with an apology. In late November, Gambit endorsed Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s millage proposals, most notably her controversial library millage plan. This was the wrong decision, and in making it we failed you, our readers, and the broader community.
In the days following our endorsement, Antigravity, The Lens, Bayou Brief, the Bureau of Governmental Research and others laid bare the disingenuous nature of City Hall’s arguments for the library budget cuts. They exposed Cantrell’s claims for what they were — not mere inaccuracies or spin, but purposeful distortions designed to convince the public to swallow a pill it had neither desire nor reason to take.
This is no simple matter of hindsight being 20/20. Ours was a very difficult decision. We were persuaded by Cantrell’s arguments, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions — and sometimes also with falsehoods. As journalists, it is our job to know better. We sincerely apologize, and we promise to do better going forward. In doing so, we hope to regain the trust of our readers in making future endorsements, particularly with an eye toward making them reflect our community’s values.
Thankfully, the voters of New Orleans knew better. You sent a resounding, powerful message to City Hall: We Don’t Believe You.
And for good reason. The mayor and her team misled the public. Among Cantrell’s most egregious affronts: In the campaign’s final days she threatened massive layoffs and even deeper library cuts if voters rejected the millage. That kind of cynical, full court press is not what voters expect — or deserve — from someone who started her political career as a grassroots, neighborhood leader in Broadmoor. It was profoundly disrespectful of the people who put her in office — and a lie. The existing library millage remains in effect through Dec. 31, 2021. Cantrell has lots of time to get this right — and earn back voters’ trust.
To say the mayor faces a crisis of confidence is a gross understatement. To someone who’ll face voters in less than a year, the Dec. 5 election results should have been a sobering wake-up call. Yet, just two days after the vote, rather than accept the will of voters and announce plans to renew the library millage more fully next year, Cantrell re-upped her threat to let it expire — and trigger layoffs as well as service reductions. Such petulance is beneath the office of mayor and an insult to all New Orleanians.
Despite her tantrum — and fortunately for the libraries — there’s time to reverse course and regain voters’ trust. Cantrell should step back from the brink on this issue and start over by listening to voters in the “bottom-up” fashion that launched her career, not lecturing them with top-down scolds and threats. She also should seek input from business, religious and neighborhood leaders as well as library users and members of the broader community before proposing another round of millage renewals — and ensure those plans actually reflect that input. Above all, any proposed renewal should ensure funding for the library system. Anything less could doom Cantrell’s relationship with the people who put her in office — and who are counting on her to do better.
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