Re­moval of stat­ues touted as part of legacy

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NATION - By Kevin McGill and Jesse J. Holland

NEW OR­LEANS >> Mitch Lan­drieu en­ters his fi­nal year as mayor of New Or­leans draw­ing less at­ten­tion to what’s been built than to what’s been taken down: Cen­tury-old land­marks, three hon­or­ing Con­fed­er­ate lead­ers and one herald­ing white supremacy, have dis­ap­peared from the city land­scape at his be­hest. Emo­tional de­bates, state and fed­eral court bat­tles, and tense con­fronta­tions at mon­u­ment sites marked the process. The drama played out over the nearly two years since he pro­posed re­mov­ing the four mon­u­ments. The City Coun­cil ap­proved the ac­tion in De­cem­ber 2015. Lan­drieu won elec­tions in 2010 and 2014 with strong bira­cial ma­jori­ties. But he’s limited to two con­sec­u­tive terms and his po­lit­i­cal fu­ture is cloudy. He’s held statewide of­fice, hav­ing been elected lieu­tenant gov­er­nor in 2003 and 2007. But as a Demo­crat who just en­raged die-hard lovers of Con­fed­er­ate iconog­ra­phy, his odds of re­turn­ing to the statewide scene ap­pear to have dimmed in a re­li­ably Re­pub­li­can state.

“It’s hard to see where he’s go­ing to land af­ter this,” said Ed­ward Cher­ve­nak, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of New Or­leans. Lan­drieu’s fa­ther, re­tired state ap­pel­late court judge Moon Lan­drieu, was a twoterm mayor in the 1970s who went on to a cabi­net post in the Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter. Ron Faucheux, a poll­ster, po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant and former Louisiana leg­is­la­tor, said Mitch Lan­drieu might be in line for an ad­min­is­tra­tion job should the Democrats re­take the White House in 2020. “His two best op­tions would be Wash­ing­ton or mayor again,” Faucheux said in an email. “Both op­tions are closed out for the next four years.”

Elected less than five years af­ter the cat­a­strophic flood­ing of Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, Lan­drieu suc­ceeded a term-limited Ray Na­gin, who presided over a slug­gish re­cov­ery and later went to prison for cor­rup­tion. Lan­drieu, 56, has held elective of­fice since he won a state House seat at age 27. He has been mum on his po­lit­i­cal fu­ture. But he said Fri­day that he’s com­fort­able with his may­oral legacy, stress­ing that it boils down to more than just the re­moval of Con­fed­er­ate-re­lated mon­u­ments. He ticked off a list of ac­com­plish­ments in­clud­ing the con­struc­tion and re­build­ing of schools, con­struc­tion on a new air­port, estab­lish­ment of dozens of pri­mary health clin­ics and the open­ing of two hos­pi­tals.

“Be­fore Ka­t­rina, we were a de­scend­ing city, now we’re an as­cend­ing city,” he told The As­so­ci­ated Press as work­ers pre­pared to re­move a larger-than-life statue of Robert E. Lee from its tow­er­ing pedestal. “We have one of the low­est un­em­ploy­ment rates we’ve ever had. We have a credit rat­ing that’s been raised three times. We’ve bal­anced our bud­get. We got through a $100 mil­lion deficit.”

It’s laid the ground­work, he said, for the city to com­pete in a 21st-cen­tury world econ­omy. Re­mov­ing the mon­u­ments, he said, was a sin­gle, im­por­tant el­e­ment of the over­all ef­fort.

The mon­u­ments in­cluded one stone obelisk com­mem­o­rat­ing a re­bel­lion against a Re­con­struc­tion-era gov­ern­ment and overtly com­mem­o­rat­ing white supremacy. The oth­ers are bronze im­ages of Con­fed­er­ate Pres­i­dent Jef­fer­son Davis and Gens. Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beau­re­gard. Lan­drieu’s de­ci­sion re­mains a hard sell for mon­u­ment sup­port­ers, among them Frank B. Ste­wart, a life­long friend of Moon Lan­drieu and a sup­porter of the Lan­drieu fam­ily’s po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns. Ste­wart said he does not op­pose the obelisk re­moval but said the stat­ues are works of art de­pict­ing men whose lega­cies tran­scended the Civil War. The 81-year-old former fu­neral home mag­nate took out news­pa­per ads cas­ti­gat­ing the younger Lan­drieu for not push­ing a public ref­er­en­dum on mon­u­ment re­moval. He’s dis­mis­sive of the sug­ges­tion that Mitch Lan­drieu’s re­moval of Con­fed­er­ate icons is com­pa­ra­ble to Moon Lan­drieu’s moves in the 1970s to open city gov­ern­ment to African-Amer­i­cans. “His fa­ther merely did what all of us did, get ed­u­cated, erad­i­cate dis­crim­i­na­tion, erad­i­cate di­vi­sive­ness,” Ste­wart said.

He ac­cused the younger Lan­drieu of try­ing to cap­i­tal­ize po­lit­i­cally on the 2015 killings of nine South Carolina church parish­ioners by avowed racist Dy­lann Roof: “Mitch is look­ing for an op­por­tu­nity to make a name for him­self.”

Lan­drieu dis­putes this, say­ing dis­cus­sions on re­mov­ing the stat­ues be­gan in his sec­ond term.

“I’ll let his­tory be the judge,” Lan­drieu said. “But I’m proud of this. I think it’s an im­por­tant mo­ment not just for the city of New Or­leans but for the coun­try.”

I think it’s an im­por­tant mo­ment not just for the city of New Or­leans but for the coun­try.” Mitch Lan­drieu Mayor of New Or­leans, on the re­moval of Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues from the city

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A statue of Con­fed­er­ate Gen. Robert E. Lee was re­moved from Lee Cir­cle on Fri­day.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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