Ex-New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu climbs personal mountain, free at lastWritten by Stephen Sabludowsky
Ever since he fought the battle of the confederate monuments, to a large block of Louisiana voters, he has crossed the wrong side of the proverbial Mason Dixon line. Even worse, he spent time at the Aspen Institute the weekend that the water pumps failed, causing significant damage to innocent people who entrusted him and city government to protect their properties from the wet.
Committing even greater political suicide in these parts, Landrieu fulfilled the suspicions of his most-fierce opponents by not only writing a book supporting his “monumental confederate” decision, but went on a victory tour of sorts on prime national news television interview shows.
Whether he timed any of this or not, it surely didn’t hurt that Landrieu also presided over the prestigious US Conference of Mayors, giving him another highly-visible forum to share his ample speaking skills, his intellect and his not-so-hidden ambitions.
No doubt, in the minds of many, including this friend and distant admirer, Mitch Landrieu primed himself for a national audience. He no longer has to appear before TV cameras after another brutal killing on our urban streets. He can take on the national issues, speak out on twitter and do all of the things that candidates for higher national office do to get even more recognition and fan-base. Meanwhile, he can push his book to bring in some pocket change, or more.
I have mixed emotions about his confederate monuments decisions. As a white person, I would not know what those statues mean to those of color. I admit I went decades without knowing that any of them caused personal pain to anyone. They seemed rather harmless to me. In fact, I would not have given it a thought that anybody cared two bits whether they existed or not. Then again, I am white and as emphatic as I want to be, I am limited by my own skin and experiences.
As the issue became ripe, it became a cause to many on both sides of the emotional line of hysteria. Their statues' appeared to take on a whole different nature. No longer were they stones of the past but became symbols of our personal prejudices and differences.
Some claim Landrieu played the race card and divided the city and the state. Others say the divide has always been present and is as wide as Canal Street and as far as the eye could see. The issue became inflamed not because confederate monuments came back to life in our minds but because the light of importance shined on the inner antagonisms of race embeded in the statues's faces. Each figure became more important than the value of its makings.
Regardless, I do believe Mitch Landrieu believed what he was doing was for the city's and society's betterment. Of course, as all politicians do, he also surely factored in what his actions will achieve for him in the future. I feel certain that his motives were not totally pure nor purely self-serving. He is a politician and used the moment to seize an opportunity to do what he thought was the right and righteous thing to do.
As i have said now for a couple of years, in my view, he made a mistake. He could have used the monuments as learning tools, specifically, deploy QR codes on the edifices. Those visiting or viewing the statues, if truly interested, could take out their phones, snap and capture information about the generals, the civil war and about our past. Removing monuments, whether civil war reminders or ovens at Auschwitz is destroying history, not a good way to learn from our past and our mistakes.
Nor was I pleased that Mitch Landrieu did a Jindal. He took off from his duties for which he was paid and obligated. During six out of eight years, I blasted our former governor for doing the same. It would be hypocritical for not speaking out when the Mayor followed somewhat similar travels.
Politically, Mitch Landrieu does not have a home here in Louisiana, or at least, not an obvious one. He surely won’t become a Republican and run for statewide office. There could be a judgeship opportunity or a position at one of our local universities. He could be welcomed into the corporate world, find a place on a national board or organization. And, of course, he has great contacts with the national media for wherever that might take him.
Despite the mistakes he made, many which I outlined above, I have no doubt the city has weathered the storm of Katrina rebuild. We have made strong gains. One only needs to drive around the city to see the significant improvements during his eight-year tenure. The port, the tourism industries are hitting record numbers. The city, for the most part, with the deep help from our state and national partners has returned from the disabled.
True, those taking such a tour might want to walk around some of the neighborhoods rather than get behind the wheel. Making it through certain areas of uptown, Lakeview and Lakeshore can be hazardous to your car's underpinnings. In fairness, the deep and many holes are a problem that is more rooted in the soil and the lack of funds than it is of mayoral neglect.
It also goes without saying that touring some neighborhoods by car or by foot was not recommended before Mitch, during or now after his retirement from city leadership. No Mayor of any city can make a major difference. It takes a village of family, local, state, national attentions to generate any quantum leaps of advances. Stating this is not a cop out nor is it an endorsement of a job well done. It is a fact.
I am pleased to say that Mitch Landrieu has a great career in front of him. He has the respect of a large national audience. He is a gifted orator. Despite the controversies that will haunt his reputation as much as it will serve as a career catalyst, he is free to pursue his own personal agenda whether his many detractors continue to denounce, or not.
I personally wish him the best. When I first noticed him in law school, I knew then he was destined to do some great things. As he became a legislator, a lawyer and mediator, I, again, witnessed his talents. Mitch had the family name which helped him become the Lt. Governor. That experience made him an easy pick for Mayor. He made his presence felt with the benefit and In the shadows of his father and his namesake, he has climbed a personal mountain of achievement although not untarnished.
Mitch Landrieu, like him or not, has earned the time to consider his options and his future. In his own historical sense, he is free at last.
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