Lee Zurik and Dannah Sauer, FOX 8
July 18, 2023
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s recent overnight stays at the city-owned Upper Pontalba apartment during Essence Fest weekend may have violated a newly passed City Council ordinance.
Video footage obtained by Fox 8 from a public-owned camera shows Mayor Cantrell entering the apartment on several occasions, accompanied by women and her security detail, despite the ordinance’s prohibition of overnight stays.
On Monday, July 3, security camera video outside the apartment shows Mayor Cantrell on the balcony of the apartment, visiting with one of her guests. That video is just part of a seven-day stretch around Essence Festival when Cantrell spent some of her time in the city-owned apartment.
On Friday, June 30, during Essence Fest weekend, Mayor Cantrell arrived at the apartment with two women and a member of her executive protection team around 12:27 a.m. The mayor stayed inside the apartment for nine hours, before leaving the next morning at 9:37 a.m.
“What this indicates is that the mayor believes that no one can tell her what to do,” said Metropolitan Crime Commission president Rafael Goyeneche.
“She considers that her apartment, not the city’s apartment. She doesn’t acknowledge the legislative branch of government that has the authority to codify how city property can be used. So, it’s another example of her indifference and arrogance with respect to the assets of the city and how she chooses to use them.”
Two nights later, in the early hours of Sunday, July 2, Cantrell was captured on video arriving at the Upper Pontalba apartment at 1:54 a.m. along with four women. They were escorted to the door by her security detail, NOPD Officer Jeffrey Vappie.
Cantrell and her female guests entered the apartment and someone finally shut off the lights around 4:12 a.m. Cantrell did not leave until 10:02 a.m., six hours after arriving.
“It looks bad, because it’s a very clear law. And it appears that the mayor is deliberately violating the law,” said Dillard University political analyst Dr. Robert Collins. “You know — and she has to know — that people are going to know she’s violating the law. Because in addition to it being a public location with lots of people walking past, she knows there’s a security camera on the front door 24 hours a day.
“So, she knows she’s going to be seen breaking the law. It appears that she just doesn’t care.”
The city council crafted an ordinance in April, aiming to limit Mayor Cantrell’s use of the Upper Pontalba apartment, explicitly stating that overnight stays are prohibited. Council vice president Helena Moreno requested that language be added to prohibit overnight stays.
The ordinance allows limited use of the apartment by a mayor or visiting dignitaries. It remains unclear whether any of the four women accompanying Mayor Cantrell would be considered dignitaries, as their identities have not been disclosed.
On Saturday, July 1, the four women and Mayor Cantrell arrived at 1:58 a.m. Cantrell stayed for less than an hour, leaving alone at 2:47 a.m., while the rest of the women stayed inside the apartment.
When the ordinance was passed, Council president J.P. Morrell suggested that the apartment should be put back into commerce and removed from the mayor’s control.
“I yield to Council. This is a mistake,” Morrell said during that April meeting. “This will be exploited at some time in the future.”
The video shows as the council put rules in place limiting the mayor’s use of the apartment, Cantrell ignored them.
“It shows that the mayor believes that she’s above the law. This shows that the mayor believes that the law doesn’t apply to her,” Goyeneche said. “I think it’s an indication of the mayor’s distorted sense of power that she has as the mayor. I think that the City Council now has to investigate this. And if this is verified, then they have to decide if they have the legislative will and desire to curb the mayor’s appetite for using public assets inappropriately.”
The video shows at least nine different times when Cantrell and her guests arrived or left with a larger-than-normal police presence. On Friday, June 30, two motorcycles with flashing police lights escorted Cantrell’s SUV out of the French Quarter after she left the apartment. The video also shows police escorts on Saturday, July 1, and Sunday, July 2.
Goyeneche calls the escorts a waste of resources for the depleted police department.
“At a time when citizens have to wait hours for police to respond to calls for service, that just is an indication of the mayor’s insensitivity towards the needs of the public,” Goyeneche said. “The fact that she utilized motorcycle escorts to get her entourage into that apartment as quickly as possible and not have to wait for red lights and let traffic get in the way shows, again, a distorted sense of entitlement for the mayor.”
Vappie, who recently was reinstated to Cantrell’s executive protection team following an internal NOPD investigation, was spotted outside the apartment four times in a four-day stretch. Vappie had been reassigned following a series of Fox 8 investigations that showed he spent long hours inside the apartment with Cantrell.
Cantrell’s guests started arriving Wednesday, June 28. The guests brought in suitcases and groceries. Most of Cantrell’s guests left the apartment on July 4th.