French Quarter Apartment No Longer Reserved for Cantrell

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An apartment in a 19th century French Quarter building will no longer be reserved for use by New Orleans mayors, the City Council decided Thursday in what mounted to a public rebuke of Mayor LaToya Cantrell over her time spent at the coveted address.

Cantrell’s use of the apartment in the Upper Pontalba on Jackson Square was among complaints cited by some of her opponents in an unsuccessful recall effort last year. Previous mayors have said they had used the apartment for meetings, special events or to house visiting dignitaries.

But Cantrell’s use of the space came under scrutiny in a series of reports by WVUE-TV that used public surveillance video to document her long hours spent there, including recent overnight stays with guests during the summer Essence Festival.

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Last March, the city’s inspector general said in a letter to the mayor that her use of the apartment may violate the state constitution’s restrictions on donation of public property and city code language governing her salary.

Council members voted 5-2 Thursday morning to override Cantrell’s July veto of an ordinance putting the apartment — one of 50 in the building — back onto the rental market. There is a waiting list for prospective tenants and it could draw monthly rents of about $3,000, according to the inspector general.

Cantrell’s office reacted quickly, issuing a statement condemning the override. Cantrell communications director Gregory Joseph said the mayor’s use of the apartment was “appropriate” in a statement listing a host of other issues the city faces, including record heat.

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“With this latest climate emergency continuously putting our most vulnerable communities at risk of heat-related illnesses or worse, is the use of a decades-old City-owned apartment really the best issue for the Council to constantly spend time and resources on?” the statement said.

Built in the mid-1800s for Micaela Leonarda Almonester de Pontalba, a New Orleans-born heiress who married a French aristocrat, the Upper Pontalba and its state-owned twin, the Lower Pontalba, are block-long, four-story, slate-roofed red brick structures with ground-floor shops and residences on the upper floors.

They bracket Jackson Square, an urban green space surrounded by an iron fence and flagstone sidewalks occupied daily by street artists, musicians and tarot card readers. Nearby are St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo, the late 18th century building where the Louisiana Purchase was completed.

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