BATISTE: An Historical Look Into The Landrieu-Cummings Relationship

Who is paying for monument removals? The funds have been entirely shrouded in secrecy. How much did last night’s covert removal cost? Taxpayer-funded employees were on site such as the New Orleans Police Department and Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, and although workers wore masks, several were believed to be New Orleans Fire Deparment employees.

Mitch Landrieu also donated $250,000 from the Edward Wisner Foundation, for which he serves as administrator, to the Foundation For Louisiana  earlier this year. The Foundation For Louisiana is well documented as the financial agent for the monument removals.

“We can remember these divisive chapters in our history in a museum or other facility where they can be put in context –and that’s where these statues belong,” Landrieu said today.

Since the beginning of the monument removal initiative by Mayor Landrieu, the name John Cummings has been linked to the removal of four historical monuments.  The most prevalent connection is that Cummings is the money behind the Foundation For Louisiana donation that will cover the expense of removing four monuments.  Earlier rumors have Landrieu putting the monuments on the Whitney Plantation owned by Cummings, as the latter is building a museum to slavery at that site in LaPlace. Landrieu’s statement today leaves the option open to put the monuments on Cummings’ Whitney Plantation.

How influential is Cummings to Mitch Landrieu?

The truth is the Landrieu and Cummings relationship goes back decades.  It was documented in the Times Picayune in 1990 by reporter Coleman Warner.  At the time, the article focused on then-sitting Mayor Sidney Barthelemy.  But it documents the behind the scene wheelings-and-dealings in the relationship of John Cummings III and the Landrieu family.

In April 1986, attorney and real estate speculator John Cummings III purchased a vacant bank building on St. Charles Avenue for $2 million.

The day the Farm Credit Banks approved selling its old building to Cummings, he made a $5,000 campaign contribution to mayoral candidate Sidney Barthelemy. Ernest “Dutch” Morial was closing out his second term as Mayor of New Orleans.

The day after the sale to Cummings closed, the administrator of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, Lawrence Fedrico, asked a real estate agent working with the board to set up a tour of Cummings’ new building.

Seven months after Cummings made his real estate investment in a “market glutted with unused office space,” the city of New Orleans under new Mayor Sidney Barthelemy bought the building from Cummings for $2.9 million.

The city supported the purchase price with an appraisal listing the building’s worth at $3 million. However, the appraisal excluded that Cummings had bought it for $2 million just months earlier. In addition, the appraisal was done by Albert Pappalardo, another Barthelemy contributor who was frequently hired by the city. (Pappalardo’s land appraisals for the New Orleans Aviation Board were questioned by the Federal Aviation Administration.)  An official with the American Society of Appraisers said an appraiser is obligated to include a parcel’s sales history, yet Pappalardo left it out.

In August of 1986, the S&WB hired former Mayor Moon Landrieu to look for a new office location/building and help negotiate a deal.

The choice of Landrieu as broker disappointed Archie Hellman, then a Latter & Blum sales agent. It was Hellman who had given the water board information on available buildings and set up the St. Charles Avenue building tour just after Cummings’ purchase.

“Other brokers had a little more influence than I had,” Hellman said.

Landrieu said Cummings came down from his first price of $3.75 million, but the land speculator refused to consider accepting less than $2.9 million. As agent for the city and the S&WB, Moon Landrieu collected $58,000 for brokering the questionable real estate deal between the city of New Orleans and John Cummings III.

Landrieu said, “There’s no question the Sewerage & Water Board got its money’s worth out of that building.” And he said so after the project turned into a money pit. S&WB officials anticipated spending about $1 million on cosmetic changes to the old bank building, the cost of renovations exceeded $3.2 million.  But Moon Landrieu felt the S&WB got its money worth spending $6.1 million.

John Cummings III bought a building for $2 million. He had it waterblasted, painted the windows, and seven months after his purchase turned around unloading it to the city for $2.9 million. Cummings made a 45% profit in an oversaturated market. Of course he paid to play with a $5,000 campaign donation to Sidney Barthelemy.  And he lined Moon Landrieu’s pockets with a $58,000 commission for work another agent put in.

It appears a more recent investment of a similar character could pay off similarly for Cummings and his budding social justice tourism enterprise up the river from the Big Easy.

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