Top mayoral candidates visit Loyola for forum


Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell speaks at Nunemaker Auditorium on Sept. 19, 2017. She was joined for a mayoral forum by former judges Michael Bagneris (left) and Desiree Charbonnet (right). Photo credit: Nick Reimann

Nick Reimann

The campaign arrived on campus Tuesday night with New Orleans’ top three mayoral candidates meeting for a forum in Nunemaker Hall to discuss plans — including one even calling for a relocation of City Hall — for properties in the city.

A recent poll showing former judges Michael Bagneris and Desiree Charbonnet, as well as councilwoman LaToya Cantrell neck-in-neck for New Orleans’ open mayor’s seat set the stage as they discussed some of the city’s pressing issues to a standing room-only crowd.

Though there are over a dozen candidates that will appear on the Oct. 14 ballot, only Charbonnet, Bagneris and Cantrell – all of whom have a significant advantage in both poll numbers and fundraising – received an invitation for the event.

That event was called “Shaping a Livable Historic City,” and covered topics like economic development, the short-term rental issue and what to do with all the vacant buildings around New Orleans.

The candidates were in agreement on most of the issues, including all agreeing there should be a minimum wage increase after taking a question from the audience on the issue.


So with that general agreement, the focus then went to candidates’ specifics, something that offered a little more contrast.

For example, on the short-term rental issue, Charbonnet said that a homeowner wishing to rent out their home short-term should have to have lived in the city for at least five years or be registered to vote in New Orleans.

Another of Charbonnet’s plans she mentioned Tuesday was a relocation of City Hall.

Charbonnet said that as mayor she would move City Hall from its current location on Perdido Street to the Charity Hospital site, a site that she calls “a gem.” She also would renovate the Municipal Auditorium in Armstrong Park into a City Hall annex.


These plans came during the forum segment discussing how to deal with vacant buildings.

Bagneris had a different idea for the auditorium, which for over a half century served as a major event center prior to Hurricane Katrina. The building has not been in use since.

“I don’t know why we don’t just restore it to its old glory,” Bagneris said.

Specifically, he hopes for the venue to be a community center for the Tremé neighborhood where it’s located – the neighborhood Bagneris lived in early in his life.

Cantrell took a different approach to the question of restoring vacant properties in New Orleans, though, as she took the opportunity to stress the importance of ensuring that New Orleans’ African-American museum – also located in Tremé – remains funded.

One of the few issues the candidates disagreed upon was whether to ease height restrictions on new buildings along the river, with Bagneris and Charbonnet both saying no while Cantrell said she would be open to the idea.

The candidates also took the opportunity to give their pitch for why they are the best person to lead New Orleans.

Bagneris lauded his successes in school, from St. Augustine High School to Yale to Tulane, as well as saying that he is “the only candidate that has legislative experience, executive experience and judicial experience.”

Charbonnet brought up her long family ties to New Orleans, saying “My family’s roots date back to the 1790s so I feel as grounded in the soil as the properties we preserve.”

Cantrell, on the other hand, cannot claim such grand connections to the city’s past.

That’s because Cantrell grew up in Los Angeles, but she said her “soul found its home” in New Orleans when she attended Xavier University.

With that in mind, these three candidates now enter the final days of campaigng leading up to the election on Oct. 14, where they will be joined by all of the currently lower-polling candidates on the ballot.

Though none of those other candidates were able to sit on the stage Tuesday, they still found a place at the forum, with many waiting outside the Nunemaker doors to hand out flyers to those leaving the event.

In any case, since the race looks to be a three-way one at this time, it seems unlikely that any candidate would receive the 50 percent necessary to win the election in October.

This means that there will probably be a runoff between the top two finishers on Nov. 18. Whoever wins then would succeed Mitch Landrieu as the city’s 62nd mayor in June.

Landrieu is not eligible to run for his office again because he is term-limited after serving two four-year terms.