Sep 212015
Owen Courrèges

Owen Courrèges

It’s so cute. Mayor Landrieu has a secret admirer!

This past week, Chief Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin wrote to the city council announcing that the city had estimated the cost of removing three monuments to Confederate leaders (Lee, Beauregard, and Davis) plus the notorious Liberty Place Monument, which Mayor Landrieu believes are divisive symbols that make black people feel bad. The total price tag? $144,000.

However, Kopplin assured, the city would not have to pay that amount. An “anonymous donor” would be footing the bill for the mayor’s highly-controversial pet project.

Kopplin also noted that storing the monuments would be done at a city-owned facility at no additional cost. Apparently, the city has a huge amount of excess commercial-grade storage around at all times that is otherwise lying fallow. That strikes me as a clear admission of gross waste from an administration constantly pleading poverty, but, you know, whatever.

Nevertheless, the big news in the letter was that of an anonymous donor, a donor which we are being asked to believe is acting purely out of a confluence of belief regarding the nastiness of monuments dedicated to the memory of Confederate leaders. We are expected to believe that there are no ulterior motives.

Yet in a city like New Orleans, where historically corruption has been second nature, that’s a bit hard to swallow. It seems like we’ve forgotten how Landrieu’s own predecessor sits in a federal prison for exchanging money for favors.

This is why Landrieu’s decision to allow this “donor” to remain anonymous is troubling. We don’t know if this person holds or is seeking contracts with the city, especially no-bid contracts over which the mayor holds greater influence. We don’t know if this person is a developer actively seeking zoning variances or zoning changes.

In short, we don’t know whether or not they have a strong interest in placing the mayor in their pocket.

Now, Landrieu’s supporters will tell you that this anonymous donor is probably just scared of violent reprisals from opponents of removing the monuments, but that’s not really supported by the facts. The organized opposition to removing the monuments has been wholly nonviolent.

Even if the donor’s motivations aren’t corrupt, they still may not be virtuous. You see, support for removing Confederate monuments is actually rather thin, to the point where it’s essentially a fringe viewpoint, and prominent citizens rarely want to be associated with fringe views.

A CNN/OCR poll released on July 2, 2015, revealed that that 71% of Americans opposed “[r]emoving tributes to those who fought for the Confederacy from public places.” This figure included 50% of African-Americans, a plurality.

Introducing Confederate leaders into the mix didn’t appear to impact the numbers. The poll further revealed that 68% of Americans opposed “[r]enaming streets and highways named after Confederate leaders,” including 63% of blacks.

Opposition was generally higher in the south, but people in all regions oppose renaming streets or removing movements by overwhelming margins. Landrieu’s position is a view held by a fairly small minority, even in the northeast.

The numbers are similar in Louisiana. On September 15, 2015, GOP pollster Marbleport released a statewide poll that asked Louisiana likely voters whether they “support or oppose the city of New Orleans removing historic confederate monuments such as the statue of Robert E Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard.” 64.1% were opposed. Although 27% of the polling sample consisted of African-Americans, only 19.1% of respondents favored removing the monuments.

The bottom line is that anybody who looks at the polls would recognize that Landrieu has hitched his wheel to an incredibly unpopular stance. This “donor” may simply be unwilling to openly embrace that position not because he fears violent reprisals, but because the stance will damage his or her personal reputation.

Of course, we’d have an easier time knowing one way or the other if the donor would simply identify themselves. It’s called transparency, supposedly a pillar of Landrieu’s administration.

If we’ve truly gone past the time of allowing the mayor to make deals behind the view of the public, it needs to apply across the board, not just at the mayor’s convenience. For now, however, Landrieu’s zeal to remove historic monuments appears greater than his desire for open and accountable government.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

  38 Responses to “Owen Courreges: Mayor Landrieu’s top-secret admirer”

  1. This is a new low for you, Owen. You are certainly entitled to your opinion and I agree that this anonymous donation raises some questions (even without your tinfoil hat musings), but your churlish and sarcastic tone is beyond the pale. “[V]iolent reprisals”?! Really!? Why would that thought even enter your mind, much less make it to print. Your passive aggression is creepy, twisted and wholly inappropriate for an editorial.

    • Cannibal – It wasn’t idle speculation. I discussed this issue with multiple people, most of whom support removal of the monuments, and all raised the prospect of death threats or violence against the donor if they named themselves (the implication being that some people who oppose removal would retaliate). I don’t find that to be a very valid concern, or how mentioning the possibility was “creepy” or “twisted.”

      And no, it’s not a “tinfoil hat” musing to speculate that perhaps the donor has some dealings with the city and might benefit from currying favor with the mayor. That’s a good enough reason for insisting on disclosure.

      • Sorry, I can’t resist, but to ask whatever happened to having the gold standard of ethics, as a certain Louisiana politician (yes, I know, on the state level) promised several years ago, as I remember? The donor, whatever their own particular political persuasion, should be man enough or woman enough to step forward and own up to what they’re doing.

  2. Excellent points. One additional point: presumably, this is aimed at black New Orleanians, who are over-represented in New Orleans poverty rankings and its unemployment rankings. How many poor children could be enlisted in Head Start with $144,000? How many jobs could be created for the unemployed? How many pot-holes could be filled? Add shelter for the homeless, assistance for those still struggling to rebuild over ten years after the storm, throwing a coat of paint on the mildewed and tawdry McMain school, giving a few unpaid firefighters their pensions, and many more pressing needs. I realize that $144,000 would make only a small dent in any of these problems, but isn’t each of them more important to the citizens of New Orleans than removing four statues? Removing the statues is like a parent with hungry children who decides to spend the family’s last few dollars on a new hat instead of a few pounds of beans and rice, and in the future, I’ll look at Mayor Landrieu in exactly the same way I’d view that parent: a wasteful person with skewed priorities and poor judgment. Ditto for anyone in the City Council who overlooks this same point.

    • As long as we’re hypothesizing, what would New Orleans look like if White Supremacy had ended with the Civil War? What if Jim Crow laws never existed? What if Plessy v. Ferguson had gone the other way? What if, decades after the “cause was lost”, White Supremacists didn’t have the influence and power to commission monuments that glorify racism? Who knows, maybe this city wouldn’t have all those problems you listed. It’s never too late to do the right thing! Maybe, in the future, Mayor Landrieu will be remembered as a visionary who set New Orleans on the path to renewed success.

      • Actually, White Supremacy as such in the South didn’t completely gain traction legally until decades after the Reconstruction era — and then let’s keep in mind that it most definitely NOT the case at the time that the South was where the entirety of the racism was with the rest of the country having attitudes about race similar to today’s attitudes about race. Moreover, it also was not the case that Robert E. Lee was popular in the South at the time that he died — 1870 — but unpopular in the rest of the country. He was popular all over and much admired by many people, including Eisenhower and Churchill, and for many decades. The fact is that the fundraising for the monument began in the year that Lee died, which happened to be right during the height of the Reconstruction era, and thus well before when Jim Crow laws started to be established. It seems like there’s this prevalent notion that the monument must have been erected somewhat later on than it actually was. Why can’t people simply accept that the monument was/is above all a monument to him as a national hero of the time?

        • RP – That’s not quite true. The Crescent City White League, which formed during Reconstruction and was responsible for setting off the Battle of Liberty Place, was definitely a white supremacist organization. Opposition to Reconstruction did, more often than not, carry with it a great deal of racist baggage and violence.

          However, you’re correct that when people talk about the timing of the building of the monuments as being suspicious, they’re off-base. The monuments were constructed as the leaders for which they were dedicated passed away, and the monuments themselves contain no “Lost Cause” or racist elements. Indeed, a contingent of the GAR attended the dedication of the Lee Memorial, and it was noted in the dedication that Lee actually opposed secession. Likewise, Beauregard was widely known for his efforts at promoting reunification and civil rights for freed slaves. These monuments, if they were intended to represent white supremacy, would have been poorly chosen.

          • Point well taken, though I dare say that it should be added that at the time, during the mid to late 19th century, the large majority of white Americans, in the north as well as in the south, were still fairly racist by the standards of today.

        • If the statue at Lee Circle depicted the man seated at a university desk while emancipating slaves, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. Instead, Lee’s popular legacy is that of a rebel warrior on the wrong side of history. His popularity in 1870’s white-dominated society is precisely the type of white supremacy I’m talking about. And as you point out, this misplaced glorification is not limited to just the South – nor is racism and white supremacist views. Again, it’s never too late to do the right thing.

          • Cannibal – Lee was not only popular in the south, but also respected in the north. And that respect extended to how he conducted himself and the chief commander of the Confederate forces. Monuments honoring Lee are distinct from white supremacist viewpoints.

          • Well, maybe the people at the time — and many others — were wrong to want to admire Lee (though I think that you have to go by modern thinking to arrive at that conclusion and I have to believe that it simply isn’t fair or just to be applying modern thinking to arrive at a negative judgment on a people of that long ago) and to want to erect a memorial to him. Nonetheless it’s there and it’s been there for 130 years and thus it does have ample historical significance. I would have to say that it especially has great historical significance if it really does carry all of this meaning that the people who want to do away with it are claiming that it does. And in no way is destroying or hiding an object of ample historical significance, no matter how different our own cultural mores are from those of the individuals who commissioned said object, ever the right thing to do.

  3. Couldn’t agree more. Something stinks about this anonymous donor business. It would be one thing if the Mayor were neutral on the issue, but he’s most certainly not…

    • Annunication – Exactly. This “donation” helps Landrieu greatly by allowing him to move the monuments without allocating taxpayer dollars (at least theoretically). That’s politically valuable to Landrieu, at least as valuable as an equivalent campaign donation. One wonders if there’s any quid pro quo involved.

  4. BTW If there are just two choices, it takes 51% to have “plurality”. Sometimes doing he right thing is not popular. The Mayor is recognizing the imbalance between tributes to the Union and those to the secessionists.

    • disqus,

      You’re wrong, because some people can refuse to answer or respond that they’re undecided. 50% is indeed a plurality. And while I understand that doing the right thing isn’t necessarily popular, I don’t think that this is the right thing. Louisiana fought for the Confederacy, so you can’t expect for there to be Union monuments around. That’s not an “imbalance” anymore than the lack of Confederate monuments in the north constitutes an “imbalance.”

      • There were some heroic actions by some Confederate soldiers. Their service could be memorialized. But secession was a stupid, hopeless gesture to retain the culture of slavery. Where in the
        South is that publicly acknowledged?Preserving the Union was the opposing sentiment. That should be publicly recognized .

        • disqus,

          I agree (and have consistently maintained) that it’s good that the South lost and that the Union was maintained. Furthermore, slavery was by far the main catalyst for the war. However, it was an ugly, necessary war brought on by unresolved issues from our nation’s founding. Men of good conscience fought on both sides in the war, including Lee and Beauregard (I’m not a fan of Davis, and he was no solider, but he was an important figure).

          The bottom line is that I don’t think Confederate war memorials should necessarily be viewed as endorsements of the ideals of the Confederacy itself. Ex-Confederates by and large encouraged reunification and sought to heal the wounds brought about by the war, but at the same time the South was hurt badly, recovered slowly, and didn’t want to forever be tarred as a region of traitorous slavers. Men fought for their states without regard for politics and were proud of their commanders. It’s appropriate that those men were honored, and more than that, it’s an integral part of our history.

          • Just a correction Owen, Jefferson Davis was a soldier. He graduated from West Point and fought in the Mexican American War. He went on to serve as U.S. Secretary of War under President Pierce. He also argued against secession as many did who later served in the Confederacy as they still felt honor bound to serve their states.

          • The Goat – Point taken. I was referring more to the Civil War itself, although it’s true that Davis already had a distinguished political and military career prior to leading the Confederacy. I wasn’t aware that he had actually opposed secession, though.

      • Reporting survey results requires defining the universe. That usually means respondents only, nonrespondents drop out. That’s why the sample universe is always larger than required for a given level of statistical significance. “Undecided” is a valid response, “i’m not going to answer” removes that respondent from the universe. Stat 101

    • Why should there be any special tributes to the Union or Union leaders in New Orleans? After all, the Union side, and not the Confederate side with which Louisiana was aligned, won the war, the 13th Amendment was passed, the industrialized cities in the north embarked on a period of expansion while the southern economy and social system was largely destroyed and then with the whole Reconstruction period as insult to go along with injury. New Orleans for its part has never fully recovered its status of prominence among American cities as it had held right before the start of the war.

  5. Push the issue and make the city open bids.. Screw the anonymous stuff.. If they want to be anonymous let them put on a mask and make a video.. Push the issue…

    • That’s what our news organizations really should be doing. Any basic ethics should mandate full disclosure on this.

  6. Interesting point about the city somehow now coming around to finding that it does have ample storage space where the statues could be housed and kept in solid condition (something that I suspect isn’t quite the case). One thing is that I suspect is that these antique statues will not be cared for at wherever this storage facility is and then another thing that I suspect that they are going to be spending the rest of eternity there, as no museum has offered to accept them into their collection, as far as I have heard, which is about as good as having the statues be destroyed.

  7. That same statewide poll showed 90% of respondents said they were “extremely likely” to vote this fall. Voter turnout in the last Louisiana gubernatorial election was ~36%. So those opposition numbers must be totally legit, right? And could you point out where Landrieu said the monuments “make black people feel bad”? That’s a pretty patronizing and dismissive way for you to put it, brah.

    • King Cake Baby,

      Who the heck cares whether the poll accurately gauged “likely voters” or not? Of course there’s a huge halo effect with that, and some polls mitigate the effects better than others, but that has nothing to do with the point I’m making here.

      As to Landrieu, I’m referring to his anecdote about a black father explaining the Lee statue to his child, implying that it makes him feel ashamed to see the monument. That’s apparently not very common.

  8. It is nice to hear about national and state polls showing widespread support for honoring the Confederacy, or at least marking its history, as we have always done. I take that to mean Republicans are united in support, but Democrats are split on the issue. The problem is that New Orleans is a hotbed of radical lunacy, and there is no voice of reason which Landrieu is subject to. This whole charade is going from rubber stamp to rubber stamp. Laws should be passed at the state level, if possible, to prevent a kamikaze mayor from trying to destroy the hallowed history of the very city he was elected to lead.

  9. I wonder if 50 or 100 years from now, will our grandchildren and great grandchildren be calling for the removal of images, presidential libraries, and memorials to Bill Clinton, George Bush, and all these other homophobic “leaders” of their once barbarian nation?
    After all, these were despicable men who, in good conscious, oversaw a country and a society in which two consenting adults couldn’t even marry one another, simply because they were of the same sex. It will only be appropriate that any remaining reference to these shameful cavemen be removed, or at least put in a museum so the wackos can go pay admission to worship their uberstraight idols outside of the public domain. It is fair and reasonable to judge historical figures, holding them to modern standards, ideas, and principles. Right??!!
    Wrong (of course)…what a mistake this city is on the verge of making…so sad.

  10. Timeout, girls. Back to your corners. My meager contribution to this discussion is to say that, growing up in New Orleans, very few things made me happier than seeing Baureguard’s statue out of the car window – which meant Storyland, ponies and the wading pool.

    For a large segment of the New Orleans population these statues are our history. To remove these statues is a slap in the face to a large part of the city (and country) who respect these monuments as a tribute to honorable, valiant men who fought in a war we were in. That we lost. That we suffered extreme economical retribution and ridicule over. Which continues.

    I cannot understand the vindictive and mean-spirited selfishness that is behind this movement to remove these statues. Removing them will not make a difference. Empowerment comes from the home and until the day I won’t be robbed at gunpoint at dusk or have my packages stolen from my stoop will I consider this issue as viable.

  11. These 4 statues are seen symbols of divisiveness. How about the areas of our city dedicated to division. Palmer Park at the corner of St. Charles and Carrollton was for many years was kept as a “white” space… and is named after Benjamin Palmer a staunch defender of slavery and leading segregationist.

  12. disqus.

    No, I’ve seen lots of surveys that simply combine “undecided” with some variety of “no answer.” You have a survey with a certain number of respondents and some of them refuse to answer certain questions, but were still interviewed as part of the survey.

  13. Seen by those who are ignorant of and do not value history, yes. Segregation and slavery were the law of the land. Palmer was a great man in his time, and earned commemoration. Let’s not unfairly judge our ancestors by 21st century standards that didn’t exist yet. That is extreme and wrong.

  14. Excellent example. Perhaps in the future there will be extremists who want to tear down the statues of everyone who drove automobiles with internal combustion engines, in an age where gasoline is banned and solar and electric are seen as the only possible energy sources to power automobiles.

  15. “…divisive symbols that make black people feel bad” Oh, really?! This statement just disgusts me in its divisiveness. I agree with another poster that this is a new low for you. Tell me, in what other country have the losers of a war – traitors, no less – been granted honorific monuments in our venerated public spaces? These monuments were erected by white supremacists to glorify a past that MOST of us (BLACK AND WHITE) reject as a most shameful part of our history. Let the monuments go to museums. This confederate whitewash has gone on far too long and I’m glad it’s soon coming to an end. Best prepare yourselves:

    • You are welcome to back up any your statements with historical facts instead of falsehoods. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you simply don’t know any history and weren’t actively trying to lie. I can agree that the Democrats are trying to create the chaos and social division of Iraq here, by using the tactics of ISIS.

      The communists have been defeated in Russia, so why is Lenin’s body still on display? Why didn’t the Rashidun Caliphate destroy the Egyptian pyramids? Because communists and ultra extreme Muslims are the only people uncivilized enough to try to erase history. It takes nutcases like the Taliban or Landrieu to attempt such a morally revolting act.

    • Here we go again with the same specious rhetoric. Even though the actual evidence indicates that the statues of Lee and Beauregard were meant merely as memorials of the particular individuals depicted and planned as such at the time of the passing of those individuals, we can’t possibly be allowed to accept that, can we?

  16. I agree Owen Courreges that the donor should be named. The
    statues have been part of our city for a very long time. The monuments that are to be moved are listed in the National List of Historic Monuments. I think the W. K. Kellogg Foundation which has funded a 1.2 million grant to the New Orleans racial reconciliation program or the Rockefeller Foundation could be part of the anonymous funding. What is wrong with this picture? Why are statues even being talked about except Landrieu might be looking toward his next job. The real issue is crime and he isn’t even touching on that. We all need to fight to change the crime.

  17. This is a complete sham.
    Trust no one on the city council with respect to the Confederate monuments.
    Cantrell is playing along with the con game as if she was a vigilant, impartial council member…nothing could be further from the truth.

    The anonymous donor could easily be marc morial funneling money from his office.

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