NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Opponents of New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell rushed 10 boxes of petitions into City Hall on Wednesday and declared they have enough enough signatures to force a recall of the second-term mayor.
The boxes arrived less than an hour before closing time at the registrar of voters’ office, just meeting the deadline after a six-month drive.
An election to remove New Orleans’ first woman mayor isn’t a sure thing, however. The required number of signatures has been a moving, uncertain target. Neither Eileen Carter nor Belden Batiste, two of the founders of the effort, would say exactly how many signatures were turned in Wednesday. Carter did provide a clue.
“We have more signatures than the mayor got votes,” she said.
Cantrell, who was first elected in 2018, won re-election easily in a low-turnout contest in November 2021, when she received 48,750 votes.
Her second term has been plagued by myriad problems — among them stubborn violent crime, fitful progress on major street projects that have left some city streets a mess and unreliable garbage collection. Questions also have been raised about her personal use of a city-owned apartment.
Petition organizers say she further hurt her own cause when she was seen on a widely circulated social media video showing her gesturing with her middle finger to a passing Mardi Gras parade. The reason for the gesture — whether she was offended by a float theme or by something done or said by a rider — is unclear and the city has said little about it.
“This administration is a gift that keeps on giving,” Carter said.
Cantrell’s communications director, Gregory Joseph, declined to comment on the drive. “We’re just going to keep on doing the work,” he said, repeating a response Cantrell has repeatedly given during the recall drive.
The mayor has said crime is a nationwide problem that took hold during the COVID-19 pandemic. And administration officials have said they’re taking steps to improve the street and garbage issues.
How many valid signatures will be needed is in question. Initially, organizers were seeking in excess of 52,000 signatures, based on state figures showing more than 264,000 registered voters. But research led to the target being lowered to somewhere between 49,000 and 50,000 because some of the voters are deemed inactive for reasons such as not having voted in multiple elections.
Recall organizers have gone to court to have the number lowered even further. They say the Orleans Parish voter registrar has failed to cull hundreds of dead voters from the active rolls — and close to 30,000 people who have moved from the city. That could lower the threshold by around 6,000 voters.
Even as their lawsuit plays out, they are hoping to have a spring election. The registrar has 20 days to certify signatures and then, if enough are verified, send it to Gov. John Bel Edwards. Edwards would have 15 days to set an election. It’s possible a recall could go on the state’s April 29 ballot. But, there are numerous unknowns — including how many signatures will or won’t be deemed legitimate, and any legal challenges Cantrell might make.
Cantrell supporters, early in the recall drive, cast it as an attempt by Republicans to attack a Black woman mayor and Democrat. However, Carter is a prominent Democrat and she stressed that support for the drive has been bipartisan and multiracial.