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Abstract: This multimedia case blends 13 short videos, a text narrative, and assorted images to tell the story of LaToya Cantrell, the first woman elected mayor of New Orleans in 2017. A native of Los Angeles, Cantrell was also the first “outsider” in several decades to win the top elected post in a city known for its entrenched political families and machine politics. Progressing chronologically through nine short “chapters,” the case begins with Cantrell’s reflections on her upbringing in Los Angeles and Alabama, then tells of her early rise as a citizen-activist fighting for the survival of her Broadmoor neighborhood after the devastating floods of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The case describes her election to the New Orleans City Council in 2012 and her unconventional approach to her new role as district councilmember. It then details her hard-won election as Mayor in 2017 and describes, in her first year in office, her bold, high-stakes move to address (and link) the ticking time-bomb of New Orleans’ crumbling water infrastructure and the fact that three quarters of New Orleans’ hotel tax revenue bypassed city coffers, destined instead for state and private entities designed to promote the tourism industry. The case ends with a question: as of April 2019, Cantrell has a few impressive wins under her belt, a collection of devoted friends and supporters, and some bitter political foes. By stopping at this juncture, the case allows students to assess the course of Cantrell’s political career midstream, and to consider what course she might chart, going forward.
Both videos and text feature interviews with Mayor Cantrell, some of her associates, and experts in New Orleans politics.
Learning Objective: Designed for a class in urban politics and policy, this case allows students to consider and contrast the skills and strategies that allowed Cantrell to succeed as an activist with those needed on the election trail and at City Hall. It allows for discussion of what the rise of an African American woman from grassroots activism to New Orleans’ top elected office means for the city—and for the activist politician herself.