Will Mayor Cantrell Suffer the Same Fate at Former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry?

Women of power and influence who develop cozy relationships with their bodyguards is really nothing new. Just remember the steamy scenes between Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner in the movie The Bodyguard? Elaine Edwards, first wife of former Governor Edwin Edwards, was thought to have had a years-long affair with a high ranking Louisiana public safety official who was often in her company. Governor Edwards approved of the relationship which kept his wife happy and gave him greater flexibility for his dalliances. 

The most telling comparison of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s alleged trysts at the city-owned Upper Pontalba apartment with her security aide Jeffrey Vappie Jr. might be Megan Barry, the former mayor of Nashville, Tennessee then was a rising star in the national Democratic Party. In January 2018 Barry admitted to a nearly two-year extra-marital affair with Nashville Police Sergeant Robert Forrest Jr. who was in charge of her security detail. When the story broke, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (similar to AG Jeff Landry’s investigative team) stepped in. 

Nashville’s Metro Auditor “independently verified” Forrest’s hundreds of accrued overtime hours and found all but 13 hours to be within Metro policies. The NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau is currently reviewing Vappie’s timesheets for possible payroll irregularities. They are specifically looking for days when Vappie might have logged more than 16 hours and 35 minutes of work in any 24-hour period.  At least one such incident appears to have been already identified on a timesheet. New Orleans City Council members J.P. Morrell and Joe Giarrusso have asked Federal Judge Susie Morgan, who is overseeing the NOPD consent decree reform program to open an independent investigation.    

Back in Nashville, Barry and Forrest were both quickly charged. As part of a plea deal, Barry resigned in March 2018 after pleading guilty to felony theft. Forrest pled guilty to theft of property over $10,000. Both were ordered to pay restitution ($11,000 for Barry and $45,000 for Forrest) to the City of Nashville.  Barry never admitted how she stole the funds but it’s easy to speculate. Forrest’s repayment was for hours charged when he was not performing his duties as the mayor’s security detail. They were each also sentenced to three years’ probation. 

There are many similarities between the two incidents. Both women were the first female mayors of their respective cities and were considered role models. Both mayors and their bodyguards were often on “city time” while the relationship was occurring. Both mayors traveled out of town with their bodyguards. Both mayors were dogged with questions of integrity, ethics and accountability after the public became aware of the relationships. Both bodyguards collected extensive overtime pay. Forrester  earned $75,462 in overtime alone during the 2016-2017 fiscal year. Vappie has already earned in excess of $120,000 in 2022 including overtime. Each bodyguard also received a special favor from his mayor. Barry created a job for a close relative of Forrester. Cantrell appointed Vappie to the Housing Authority of New Orleans. She recently called Vappie a “valued and trusted adviser.”

Public awareness of Barry’s affair came during the “Me Too” movement when sexual misconduct by prominent powerful men led to their downfall and sometimes prison terms or even suicide. In Barry’s instance – and perhaps Cantrell’s – the roles were reversed with the woman being in power and the man her underling. Barry did claim that Forrest was never her “direct subordinate”. Cantrell has yet to make the same statement. In these two cases, all four participants were married consenting adults and not underage as in some of the “Me Too” cases. Forrest’s wife of almost 30 years subsequently filed for divorce citing “inappropriate marital conduct” after the affair became public. Barry is still married. Vappie’s wife is also said to be headed to divorce court. 

Though Mayor Cantrell still has much support among New Orleans voters – especially Black men – her behavior outside the office including at clubs and second line parades has drawn unwanted attention from many sectors of the community including from Black females who were always her base. It is particularly concerning to some that the mayor appeared to be off the grid with Vappie during normal business hours while being paid to handle the city’s business. It is alleged that she went to important business meetings instead of attending personally so she could spend more time at the Pontalba apartment.    

Photographs from security cameras also show Cantrell leaving the Upper Pontalba apartment alone late at night. These actions could beg the question as to Cantrell’s security priorities, especially after she insisted that flying first class was a necessary security measure. Cantrell has also been very vocal about the importance of raising her daughter. How has the media coverage of this incident impacted their relationship and the relationship with her husband Jason?   

The men of the Vappie family have been involved in law enforcement for generations. They have always been well respected in the community for their hard work, loyalty, and commitment to public service. Now the family name and legacy has been tarnished. Was it all worth it? 

Some consider Vappie a victim. They see him as a city employee who had to work closely with a person of power – an individual or could make or break his career. Did Vappie knowingly, willingly plan on spending all those hours alone with the mayor or did one thing lead to another? Since many of these interactions occurred on city property while both were on the public payroll, the public has the right to know what was going on. Insiders say the closeness between Vappie and Cantrell was an open secret at the NOPD. Is Vappie Cantrell’s only special friend?

According to Atlanta Area Psychological Associates, estimates of American men involved in extramarital affairs range from 22 percent to 75 percent; estimates for women range from 14 percent to 60 percent.  Additionally, 74 percent of men and 68 percent of women say they would have an affair if they knew they would never be caught. Did Cantrell subscribe to that assumption? 

Numerous citizens have taken to Nextdoor to vent their frustrations about Cantrell and her suspected paramour. None of those who posted expressed support for the mayor. Former City Council candidate Vincent Milligan called Cantrell’s relationship with Vappie “inappropriate” and suggested that the relationship might be the reason behind her “misuse” of the city-owned Pontalba Apartment. “It’s clear that Vappie is more than security,” said Lower Garden District resident Todd Capone. “Our taxes are paying both their salaries, such a disgrace,” said Lizette Castillo who also lives in the Lower Garden District. “I agree our city is suffering as most would when individuals fail to do their jobs,” said Ana P. “I think Mr. Vappie is protectin’ our Mayor’s poon tang,’ ‘ proclaimed Lower Garden District resident Georgia Ross. “Oh my dear God!! She should resign,” said Sally Hoffman of the Touro neighborhood.  “But she won’t,” proclaimed Irish Channel resident Penny Nunenmacher.

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