NEW ORLEANS — The apparent failure of a spirited petition drive here to force a recall election of Mayor LaToya Cantrell should give no solace to arrogant, leftist politicians. The petition drive failed more because of a lack of professionalism than a lack of public support.
Cantrell is blamed by many for allowing this port city to become, by far, the nation’s per capita murder capital in 2022. She also has been embroiled in other controversies ranking from taking first-class European travel on the taxpayers’ tab to private use of a swanky, city-owned apartment with a security official with whom she was alleged to be having an affair.
To force a recall election, petitioners needed signatures, under strict formatting rules, from at least 20% of the city’s registered voters. Even that raw number was a moving target, as petitioners argued that voter rolls were littered with names of people who had died, moved away, or otherwise become ineligible to vote.
Cantrell, who is black, had ludicrously tried to portray the recall effort as a racist, Republican plot, even though the two lead organizers, Eileen Carter and Belden “Noonie Man” Batiste, are black Democrats. (The petition drive’s main financial contributor was, however, a white Republican.) Instead, polls showed her approval level extremely low across almost every demographic line in the city.
Organizers Carter and Batiste are political activists, and Carter actually had served in Cantrell’s administration, but neither are hardened political professionals. Their volunteer-heavy efforts were impressively energetic, but observers repeatedly said they lacked professional standards and scope.
Still, visitors to the city in recent months found New Orleanians abuzz with talk of the recall effort, with a combination of optimism for the drive’s success and concern that its quality-control standards might be slipshod.
The final approved target level for signatories was 44,975. In all, organizers turned in 67,046 names by the Feb. 27 deadline. Today, though, Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Sandra Wilson reported that only 27,243 of the signatures met the exacting standards to be counted. About 6,500 were duplicates, and another 33,000 or so were deemed “invalid” for other, unspecified reasons, presumably such as lacking full birth dates or full address lines for the listed names.
Cantrell, of course, will crow about the drive falling 17,000 names short. She shouldn’t. She escaped, apparently, on technicalities, not due to her popularity. New Orleans voters are ticked off, and motivated. When some 60,000 voters out of 225,000 sign a petition to jettison a mayor midterm, even if some of the signatures lack jots or tittles to qualify legally, that’s a sign of the strength, not the weakness, of the citizenry’s disapproval. Petition drives are hard, especially when relying so much on amateurs and especially when each form must be filled out “just so.”
Left-wing, soft-on-crime politicians nationwide should take note. Even liberal San Francisco last year successfully recalled useless District Attorney Chesa Boudin, and the year before, enough voters statewide forced Gov. Gavin Newsom to survive a recall ballot (which he did). And despite the technical failure of the amateur recall attempt here in the Crescent City, the message is clear: Voters care about law and order, and they will make political life difficult for politicians who show less concern or less aptitude for maintaining public safety.
Alas, now New Orleans is stuck for two more years with an incompetent, often absentee mayor. She’s a mayor not humbled by the recall effort, but defiant. Civic activism, though, is on the rise, here and nationwide. In the end, peaceful civic activism does usually lead to better government.