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 UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.