Somebody Has to Say It: The Mayor’s Personal Tax Liability Has Nothing to do with Her Ability to Govern

We speculate that some of the very people who are so worried about what Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s $95,000 IRS tax lien means as it relates to her ability to govern the city were among those in the Superdome at the national college football championship, cheering and clapping for President Donald Trump, a man who filed bankruptcy on behalf of his casino and hotel businesses at least six times over the course of 18 years in order to avoid paying investors, banks and other businesses money that he owed them.

And while there is no law requiring presidents or presidential candidates to release tax returns, every Democratic and Republican nominee between 1980 and 2012 has released at least one year of his or her tax returns in effort to assure the American public that the person vying for the highest elected office in the country is open, honest and transparent regarding their personal finances. Then here comes Donald—a six-time bankruptcy declarer—breaking that tradition in 2016. And some of y’all still clap and cheer for him. Some of y’all want to give him four more years to ruin our country; and you still haven’t seen his tax returns—not even a summary.

But Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s financial challenges are publicly disclosed and folk have the audacity to openly question her ability to run the city. Look, if y’all cool with Donald Trump running the entire nation, we are pretty sure Mayor LaToya Cantrell can handle her back taxes while she handles business here.

What are we talking about—less than $100,000 for roughly six years. In the world of back taxes, interests and penalties that’s not much. Hell, we suspect there is some well-suited, big-money Uptown businessman walking in the CBD right now with his head held high who owes the IRS more than Mayor Latoya and Jason Cantrell.  

And we know that telecommunications giant Walter Anderson (remember MCI and WorldCom), in 1998, owed $247 million to the IRS. Former Tyco International CEO Dennis Kozlowski was indicted in 2002 over a $21.2 million tax debt. Actor Wesley Snipe did time for a $17 million tax debt after his settlement offer was rejected by the IRS. Country singer Willie Nelson owed $16 million tax debt that stretched back to 1972 before he reached a settlement with the IRS in 1984. Famous American photographer Annie Leibovitz owed the IRS $1.4 million in addition to penalties and interest for failure to report earnings between 2004 and 2007. In today’s dollars, crime boss Al Capone went to jail for not paying $3 million in taxes, interests and penalties—30 times more than the Cantrell’s debt. Please forgive us for not considering the Cantrells’ $95,000 personal income tax debt high crimes and misdemeanors, especially because she and her husband are addressing the issue as best as they can…and even more so because if they fail to pay it, for whatever reason, not one of you will be personally impacted. It’s a tax lien on their house—not yours, not on City Hall, not even on Gallier Hall.

Still, one so-called expert being interviewed by a local television news reporter recently foolishly allowed himself to be pushed into question about how the New Orleans City Council might react to the Mayor’s personal financial challenges. Instead of accurately answering by saying it isn’t the business of the councilmembers, individually or collectively, he suggested that it might give the legislative body plausible reason to launch an inquiry into the mayor’s administration. Say what now? Bless your heart, honey, but that’s just not how any of that works.

Look, we don’t always agree with the Mayor. In fact, it’s no secret that in the 2017 mayor’s race, we endorsed another candidate. But since the day the she was elected LaToya Cantrell, we have enthusiastically supported her when we felt she was right and respectfully disagreed with her when we felt she wrong. And when we have taken issue, it has been surrounding the business of the city and its people—not her personal affairs.

More importantly, we recognize a witch-hunt when we see one. Somebody has to say it; and since no one else will, here we go: This is a witch-hunt of the most obvious kind. And we aren’t having any part of it.

Come on now. It was no secret that she and her husband owed back taxes when she was a candidate for mayor. This was not news. And while this latest IRS tax lien on their home might have been news to most New Orleanians, guess who wasn’t surprised by it—the Cantrells themselves. They know they owe the IRS. They know how much they owe, and they have been working with professionals to address the matter—as evidenced by the fact that three of the years in question have already been paid.

And the mayor is right. Many New Orleanians are struggling to make ends meet, to keep cupboards and refrigerators full, to pay utility bills, increased property tax bills, credit card bills, bills on top of bills—leaving them little time to worry about the Cantrell’s personal financial troubles.

But there are some folk that are way too concerned about this all. From where we sit, this whole matter has become a public spectacle for one reason only—to add fuel to a growing fire raging against Mayor Cantrell. It seems to us there is an element in this city intent on blaming her for everything that is awry. Perhaps nefarious operatives are setting the stage for the next mayor’s race. That’s speculation on our part, of course. But we’d bet it’s not far from the truth. To be sure, they are working hard to lay at the Mayor’s feet everything that is wrong and has been wrong in New Orleans for the last 100 years.

The entire Hard Rock collapse is her fault—never mind that she inherited a City safety and permits department that ostensibly had employees who had been engaged in fraudulent activity long before her election as mayor. Never mind that she was neither the developer, contractor, nor the construction manager on the site.

Instead of allowing her administration to address the issues, for some reason,  they want her to carry the blame for the deadly accident like a scarlet letter. 

And likewise, everything that is wrong with the ancient Sewerage & Water Board, is also all her fault. No pun intended, but the woman can’t go to the bathroom and flush the toilet without someone blaming her for the city’s water woes.  The fact is that she inherited this mess. Of course, as the mayor now, she should take control of and manage it to the very best of her administration’s ability in a way that moves the city forward as quickly as possible—making as much progress as she can for as long as she sits in the seat. But come on, people, New Orleans had S&WB issues, drainage issues, flooding issues, aging infrastructure issues long before she became mayor, way before she first moved to New Orleans in the early 1990s as a college student, and decades before she was born. In order to point the finger at the people actually responsible for our infrastructure woes, we would have to get shovels and head to the cemeteries.

But we know that the media love expediency. It’s convenient to blame the Mayor for all that’s wrong. And her opponents and political enemies are all too happy to jump at the opportunity to cast malignant allegations against her.

We believe that the people of New Orleans are smarter than that, though. We know we are.

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