LaToya Cantrell HKSEE 2007, who gained prominence in New Orleans for her effort to rebuild a historically black neighborhood after Hurricane Katrina—a project in which Harvard Kennedy School played a prominent part—has been elected mayor of New Orleans. Cantrell, who will become the first female mayor in the city’s 300-year history, won more than 60 percent of the vote in a runoff election November 18. She will assume office in May of next year.
Cantrell was president of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, an organization founded to further social and economic progress in one of the city’s largest central neighborhoods. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Broadmoor was devastated, most of its houses destroyed by the eight to 10 feet of water that flooded the area. The city proposed razing the neighborhood and replacing it with a park. It was Cantrell who led the effort to save Broadmoor, and to corral the resources necessary to rebuild.
Those resources included the Broadmoor Project, a multi-year commitment by Harvard Kennedy School to provide executive training, student support, and research grant funding for HKS faculty working on issues relevant to post-Katrina recovery. The Project was conceptualized and directed by Doug Ahlers, who was then a fellow at the school’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
Less than a year after Katrina, the first cohort of Kennedy School student volunteers arrived in Broadmoor, working with neighborhood residents to gather data, launch a charter school, open a public library, and work on the contours of a redevelopment plan. The students continued to work with the association for distinct periods over several years before the project officially ended in 2011.
“The students’ help is invaluable,” Cantrell said, “not only their brainpower, but the momentum and the hope that they instill in residents.”
Today, Broadmoor has been largely rebuilt, with the Broadmoor Project considered a model for effective collaboration between an academic institution and civic organization. It was the focus of a 2008 Kennedy School Case Study titled, “Broadmoor Lives: A New Orleans Neighborhood's Battle to Recover from Hurricane Katrina.” The study is authored by Esther Scott with faculty sponsors Archon Fung, academic dean and Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship; Herman (Dutch) B. Leonard, George F. Baker, Jr. Professor of Public Management; and Henry Lee, senior lecturer in public policy.