Mayor LaToya Cantrell has said her $43,000 summer trip to France had a legitimate public purpose: She formed a partnership with a Mediterranean city of 74,000 that she says will help raise New York’s international profile. Orleans and promoting economic development.
What hasn’t been widely discussed is the one-day side trip she and her staff took to Paris, which included airfare from the south of France and hotel accommodations with views of the Eiffel Tower that cost an average of $726 per room, according to data obtained by The Times-Picayune.
Paris is more than 569 miles from the town of Antibes Juan-les-Pins, where Cantrell signed a sister city agreement during her trip. When submitting her travel expenses, Cantrell said the purpose of the trip was to secure that partnership and attend two related events in the south of France.
She and her staff did not provide a detailed explanation of their trip to Paris when they filed their expenses, which included at least $1,660 in flights from Nice and a $2,906 bill from the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel hotel. It is unclear whether Cantrell paid for her own flight to Paris, as that amount does not appear to be included in her refund.
Mayoral spokesman Gregory Joseph, who joined Cantrell on the trip, said the Paris mayor canceled a planned meeting with Cantrell at the last minute. Instead, Cantrell had a discussion with another Parisian official about “priorities that the two cities share,” Joseph said.
Asked about hotel costs in Paris, Joseph said: “I don’t make any of the travel arrangements. I just go where they tell me to go.”
Cantrell defended her trip to France at a press conference Wednesday and said a travel agent picked the Paris hotel.
“I can’t tell you why,” she said. “I would say because that’s what was available. I think it’s common sense.”
She also said business class travel was about her safety.
“I travel business class. Absolutely. I have to be protected,” Cantrell said. “I need to be safe while doing business on behalf of the city of New Orleans.”
The mayor’s office has not provided any further explanation as to why Cantrell traveled first class for connecting domestic flights and business class for her out-of-state flights, or whether the city’s reimbursement of her travel costs violated city policy. Joseph said he did not know if the city had a travel policy.
Cantrell flew United Airlines to Europe, and that company’s business class seats often cost four times as much as coach, according to the airline’s website.
She was joined on her trip by Joseph, Chief of Staff Clifton Davis and Robert Monlyn, a New Orleans police officer there for security.
All of the mayor’s entourage traveled by coach and their flights cost taxpayers just over $17,000 combined, records show. Cantrell’s flights cost about $17,850. Round-trip economy fares to Paris next month average about $1,240 per traveler, according to Google Flights.
The trip was booked through Going Places Travel, Inc, in Metairie. The owner of the company did not return a message.
A travel itinerary shows that Cantrell’s arrangement with Antibes mayor Juan-les-Pins ended on the first evening of the three-day trip. Cantrell and staff that night also attended the Jazz-a-Juan International Jazz Festival, held at a waterfront location surrounded by a pine grove.
French officials hosted Cantrell the next day with a walking tour of the sun-drenched French Riviera, a visit to a Picasso museum and a beachside dinner with panoramic views of the Bay of Angels.
Joseph said New Orleans is interested in bringing a traveling Picasso exhibit to the New Orleans Museum of Art. Cantrell and French officials from the coastal city discussed flooding issues and “the similarity of our cultures,” Joseph said.
“It was more about learning or understanding the city and learning how our sister city relationship will interact with theirs,” Joseph said.
Cantrell and staff took a 90-minute flight to Paris the next morning, where Joseph said Cantrell met with a mayoral official and the principal of a school for at-risk youth. The group visited a Paris museum, Joseph said, as he posted photos of his sampling of local foods, including onion tarts, beef tartare and a bottle of green Chartreuse.
“It’s a beautiful summer day in a magical city,” Joseph said in a video.
The trip has drawn criticism
For the three-day trip, Cantrell and staff were each reimbursed about $395 per diem for meals, records show.
Cantrell — who also took a $16,600 taxpayer-funded trip to Switzerland in June — faced criticism this summer that she was out of the country while a crime wave gripped New Orleans and the NOPD was hemorrhaging officers.
She eventually canceled an August trip to Singapore and vowed to “stick” with police to respond to what officials described as a staffing crisis.
Cantrell has also recently stressed that the city needs to budget conservatively, as revenues may not reach pre-pandemic levels for another three years.
It wants to pay for a $39 million plan to raise wages for nearly 4,300 employees, eliminating an as-yet-undetermined number of vacant positions — likely in the hundreds — permanently shrinking the size of city government.
Speaking at a community meeting in New Orleans East on Aug. 15, Cantrell said, “We want to keep this city making decisions that are fiscally responsible and fiscally sound and prudent in our practices.”
Ben Myers contributed reporting.