New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell is pushing back against allegations that she had or has been having an extramarital affair with a police officer whose wife recently initiated divorce proceedings. In particular, Cantrell labeled them as sexist and baseless.
The accusations are surfacing just as Cantrell faces the very real possibility of having her election recalled.
The news broke on Wednesday when local media reported that divorce papers filed by New Orleans Police Officer Jeffrey Vappie’s wife claimed he was having an affair with Cantrell. The mayor, who is married, was not named in the divorce papers. Instead, lawyers for Vappie’s wife — the petitioner — used the initials “Mrs. L.C.,” which reporter Cassie Shirm said in a tweet was a direct reference to Cantrell.
Notably, Vappie works on Cantrell’s security detail.
“Particularly, petitioner avers that defendant has been in an ongoing marital affair with a person identified as Mrs. L.C.,” the divorce papers said in part before adding later: “Mr. Jeffrey Vappie has been in an ongoing sexual relationship with Mrs. L.C. since approximately May 2021.
The divorce papers say Vappie’s wife “became aware of the inappropriate relationship” this past November.
Cantrell on Wednesday blasted the allegations and pointed to sexism as the reason for the allegations, according to NOLA.com, which cited a text conversation the mayor had with one of its reporters.
“By the time I complete my tenure as mayor I would have slept with half of the City of New Orleans based on false accusations that come my way sometimes daily,” Cantrell texted. “This is only one of them.”
Cantrell also texted: “If I were a MAN you would NOT be texting me about this bull***t.”
If the pair carried on an affair during hours they were being paid to work, the episode would present a swirl of ethical and legal questions with little precedent in New Orleans: No mayor in modern memory has been publicly accused of having an affair with a subordinate.
And it’s unclear who at City Hall would have the authority to investigate if Cantrell violated city policies prohibiting favoritism or behavior that would cause “neglect or inattention” to their duties. Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño in December 2021 issued a policy that prohibits sexual harassment by city employees. While the policy does not explicitly ban sexual relationships between supervisors and subordinates, it does state that “quid pro quo” sexual harassment occurs “when the rejection of sexual advances would result in adverse decisions affecting an employee’s job status.”
The timing of the allegations couldn’t be worse for Cantrell, who has recently been criticized for spending and is the subject of a possible election recall that organizers say they’re close to making a reality.
Throughout all the drama, though, Cantrell previously said she was still focused on New Orleans’ residents and remains steadfast in solving the problems facing the city.
Cantrell was also heavily criticized after she announced she wasn’t planning to reimburse the city money she spent on summer travel. The mayor’s travel expenses were scrutinized by City Council in August after she spent $43,000 on a summer trip to France. Her airfare alone cost roughly $18,000. It’s worth noting that the mayor did work while on the trip, signing an agreement to continue an existing partnership with a small city on the Mediterranean Sea.
Also in August, a recall petition was filed to have Cantrell removed from her position. The petition was filed by community activist Belden Batiste and former City Hall staffer Eileen Carter. Violent crime in the city and the mayor’s travel expenses were cited as reasons for the petition. There are 53,000 signatures needed for the recall to move forward and all signatures must be handwritten.
Organizers recently said they’re preparing a final push for their recall effort.