Shortly after she triumphed, Democrat Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell sat down with the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which asked her about her background. And off the bat, she made some breathtakingly stupid comments about the political atmosphere in her Los Angeles youth:
Ronald Reagan was elected president and I saw that everything changed. Social programs went away. Crack cocaine engulfed the neighborhoods. The streets blocks [sic] changed ….
The whole focus on "welfare queens," the social programs …. And I just remember stark change when those programs were cut …. Being in an urban environment and just kind of seeing that change and when those drugs really inundated the community.
Let’s get this straight: through an 8-year-old’s and on eyes, Reagan's presidency gutted “social” programs and this caused drugs to flood cities? Too bad the reporter didn’t dig a bit further and see whether Cantrell ascribes to the discredited notion that the Central Intelligence Agency triggered the crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles.
Of course, the facts bear none of this out. The Reagan Administration did pare back marginally programs that proved ineffective in moving people from welfare to work or that paid for benefits they could have managed on their own, but even then only in small amounts. For example, a change in Aid for Families with Dependent Children that lowered the level at which families would qualify removed only four percent of previous enrollees.
But, overall, discretionary spending on programs dealing with social services, found in the Departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development, increased dramatically during Reagan’s two terms. HHS increased by over a third, and while HUD spending went down 40 percent in his second term, that was after a 60 percent increase in his first term – precisely when the child Cantrell perceived a cut in those programs.
Nor did social program spending have anything to do with crack cocaine hitting Los Angeles. That actually happened in the 1970s, but did not reach the national consciousness until the mid-1980s. Further, it became popular because of its ease of manufacture and associated low costs.
Not that the Reagan Administration ignored this. From the start, it poured money into combatting the illegal drug trade. It almost doubled that spending in his first term from $1.5 billion to $2.75 billion. By 1992, this had reached $12.5 billion.
Of course, the impressions of a child may bear little resemblance to a larger reality. But Cantrell has lived three decades past her formative years and has the responsibility to educate herself on such matters if she desires to make informed public policy decisions. That she appears shockingly ignorant of the historical record does her discredit, which bodes ill for the quality of governance ahead for New Orleans.