New Orleans elects first black female mayor: 300 years in the making

May 17, 2018

Mayor LaToya Cantrell

Mayor LaToya Cantrell took charge of New Orleans’ highest public office Monday May 7, 2018, becoming the first woman to lead the city in its 300-year history, and telling a large audience at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre that “there’s only you and me and the work before us.”

LaToya Cantrell was sworn in on Monday morning in a ceremony presided over by former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman and New Orleans native Donna Brazile.

“I vow to each one of you standing here today, before God Almighty, I’ll spend every breath and every moment of the next four years proving that you made the right choice,” Cantrell said in her inauguration speech.

Mayor Cantrell also acknowledged that her win challenged outdated ideas about what a mayor ought to look like.

“We broke every kind of glass ceiling. After 300 years, don’t you think it’s about time a woman was in charge?” she said. “We broke every kind of glass ceiling and every color line, and old, outdated rules about who’s supposed to be mayor. It tells me that each and every one of you took a good hard look at where we are, and where we want to be and how we want to get there, and you put your faith in me.”

But Cantrell isn’t the only Black woman that’s breaking ground in Louisiana government. Deep South Louisiana also will have two black women leading cities– Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler. They join four other such cities nationwide: Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte and the District of Columbia.

The milestone of becoming the first female mayor, and doing so in New Orleans’ tricentennial year, were constant themes during the inaugural ceremonies, with a celebration of music, food, history–and also getting down to business.

Cantrell wasted no time to start governing. She addressed a variety of hard issues in her 12-minute speech, including the city’s faulty sewer and drainage system, fixing socioeconomic issues affecting minorities and growing business.

“Far too many of our people are still left behind,” she said. “There’s only one way that we can make the city better,” Cantrell said. “We really have to be willing to try, and not only try, we have to believe. We have to believe in one another. We have to step up to the challenge of moving our city forward together. The key to that is you.”

Prior to her election, Cantrell served on the city council for five years. A native of Los Angeles, she moved to New Orleans to attend college at Xavier University. She has long been a community activist in the Broadmoor area, which was heavily affected by Hurricane Katrina.

After a campaign that touched on themes of economic development, Cantrell laid out what she sees in the future for the Big Easy, “We’re worthy of a clean and safe city, good jobs and opportunity. I care about where you live, how you live, I want to make sure that you and your family have a chance to thrive — not just survive.”

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