The Hard Rock Hotel collapse and aftermath have been a tragic and public display of all of the terrible things about New Orleans that us long-suffering locals hoped were washed away with Katrina. We have come to realize these unfortunate characteristics of our city are back and stronger than ever. Incompetence, corruption, laziness and lack of accountability from anyone. The Sewerage and Water Board’s never-ending issues and the Hard Rock collapse are the most obvious recent examples of everything we hate but perpetually tolerate in a city that we love.
I viewed the Hard Rock collapse in 3 phases, analogous to the 5 Stages of Grief. Phase One was Shock. We all watched the unbelievable videos of the building’s collapse with people running from the tumbling rubble. I watched on my phone that morning from my son’s baseball practice. Then the streetcar video came out, and we all imagined being on that car as we’d done many times before. It was too close to home, too real.
“How did this happen?” we asked. And then the video came out with the stripper pole-looking support beams visibly straining days before the collapse. And then we remembered that one week prior there had been indictments in the City’s Survey and Planning department. I felt awful for the 3 victims and their families. I felt awful for the city with a major building collapse on one of the most prominent street corners in New Orleans being replayed all over the national news. I felt awful for the Saengar and the surrounding businesses.
Phase Two for me started when the photos of the victim’s legs hanging over the side of the building went viral. Phase Two was Horror. Again, how could this happen? The building collapsed months before, and one of the victim’s legs were hanging over the street visible for anyone. The City initially said there was no way to replace the tarp. What? So the City of New Orleans is going to have a dead man’s legs hanging over Rampart Street until March or April or whenever they decide to demolish the building?? Why has this building not been taken down yet? There are many, many examples of large building demolition in other cities, and they make it look easy. Why can’t New Orleans demolish a building? I actually had a really random thought at this point: why the heck is the Plaza Tower still standing almost 20 years after it was vacated? What is wrong with OUR city that we can’t take a building down like every other major city in the US?
Phase Three started Monday. Phase Three is Anger. Listening to a representative of developer Mohan Kailas claim no fault for the building collapse and its aftermath and openly start the legal blame game just plain pissed me off. Poor Mohan Kailas is paying the police and firemen out of his own pocket. That was it for me, I just couldn’t listen anymore. I couldn’t understand why the building was still standing. I couldn’t understand why the City had not done anything with this devastating site, a tomb, in 3 months. I could not understand why Mayor Cantrell had not moved swiftly and aggressively to hold the developer responsible for this tragedy and to get the building down ASAP.
So I opened Google on my computer and I typed simply “Kailas Cantrell campaign contributions”. The first result was a candidate’s report to the LA Board of Ethics. I scrolled down and realized the document was a campaign contributions summary for 2016. Mayor Cantrell raised $96,187.85 during that period. Page 5 had a list of the entities that contributed and how much they gave. First on the list was 1010 Common LLC. I knew that Mohan Kailas owned that building. I kept scrolling. Page 11 – Citadel Builders LLC Clark. Page 15 – C. Mohan Kailas. Page 21 – Todd Trosclair. Of roughly 100 separate entities contributing during this period, the owners of 1031 Canal (developer of the Hard Rock project) were in for about $10,000 of LaToya’s 2016 total.
Ten-thousand dollars is not a lot of money in the greater political landscape. LaToya Cantrell raised over $1 million during her Mayoral campaign. But it was worth digging into in my opinion. When you spend time sifting through campaign finance reports, you laugh out loud a lot. The list is peppered with every developer, construction company, engineering firm, and architect that you’ve ever known. It’s totally legal to donate to political campaigns, and in and of itself, the donation carries no implication that any donor is getting anything special from the candidate when elected.
I spent a few hours with the Louisiana corporations database website open on one screen and the list of all of LaToya’s campaign contributions open on another. Mohan Kailas and his family have 10 pages worth of corporate entities they are explicitly associated with. I cross-referenced them all. And all of Todd Trosclair’s. And all of Denzel Clark’s. Total over $70,000 in campaign contributions which puts the group in the upper echelon of all donors to the Cantrell campaign. 17 different corporate entities made these donations.
What does it all mean? Maybe nothing. Maybe something. To me, the public deserves to know that the 1031 Canal owners had donated that much to the Cantrell campaign. To me, it means that LaToya Cantrell should not be in charge of anything related to the Hard Rock Hotel and especially related to any investigation into the building’s collapse. The conflict of interest is just too significant.
I want to thank The Lens for being the only group of journalists to acknowledge and follow up on the information I sent. I sent it to everyone. In a world where journalistic integrity is constantly being questioned, and in many cases being discredited, it is nice to know that there are still a select few doing things the right way.