OK, Mitch, What Governmental Functions Will You Sacrifice To Pay For Your Monument-Removal Hobby?

Last week I had an American Spectator column about Malcolm Suber and the Take ‘Em Down NOLA morons, who, drunk with power after winning a court case opening the door to bulldozing a few of the historical landmarks pertaining to New Orleans’ confederate past, now want to go whole hog and scrub virtually everything standing that involves dead white guys, from the statue at Jackson Square to Tulane University.

Landrieu has given Suber an inch — to understate the case. Now he wants his mile, and Landrieu has no leg to stand on in opposition other than to pass the mess he created on to the next mayor.

Assuming he even cares to stop the bleeding of the city’s history, that is.

Today it became even more clear what a sloppy, embarrassing mess Landrieu has dived into, because the period for taking bids to remove the statues of Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis has come and gone and all he got was one bid. And it’s fair to say that under Louisiana bid law that one is “unresponsive.”

Only one bidder has submitted a proposal to take down three Confederate monuments in New Orleans, and that firm is asking more than three times the amount the city has budgeted for the project.

Cuzan Services Limited submitted a $600,000 bid to remove statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate President Jefferson Davis from public areas in New Orleans. The bid was opened Tuesday afternoon.

According to details from the bid read aloud during the meeting, Cuzan will charge $300,000 to remove the statue of Lee from its pedestal and another $150,000 each to remove the statues of Davis and Beauregard. The bid called for three quotes, one for the removal of all three statues, one to remove only Lee and Davis and a third to remove only Lee.

The opponents of Landrieu’s monument-removal effort have done a pretty nice number on the bid process. When Landrieu tried to find a contractor for the project last year it turned into a fracas…

Previous attempt to secure a company to handle the removal had been fraught with issues. The first firm selected by the city pulled out after its owner said he received threats, prompting the city to put the project out for public bid.

Some firms whose names appeared on a publicly available list of companies that viewed the bid documents reported receiving harassing phone calls from those who support keeping the statues in place. That bid request was eventually scrapped when it appeared the court case would drag on indefinitely. Because it was never completed, it remained unclear whether any firms submitted proposals.

It was that bad publicity which almost assuredly scared off contractors other than Cuzan Services out of Belle Chasse, whose bid was entertainingly, outrageously high. All we could find on Cuzan Services from a quick look around the web was that John Hymes, the owner of that firm, made a $2,300 donation to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 – so that’s an indication he might not have much of a philosophical objection to those monuments coming down.

Landrieu’s budget for the project, which he says comes from private anonymous donors, is $170,000. Given that number, which almost everybody thought was fancifully small when Landrieu announced it, for Hymes to bid $600,000 would almost be an attempt to gum up the works on the removal – he’s the only bid, and his bid is too much for Landrieu to pay him, and if he really wanted to screw up the monument removal he could take Landrieu to court and tie the mayor up for an indefinite period of time to prevent a re-bid of the project. Hymes would lose, but delaying this fiasco until a new state law or a new mayor unwilling to stick his or her head in this particular lion’s mouth would be the fulfillment of an opponent’s goal.

He’s not an opponent, though, is our guess. He’s just an opportunist who got greedy – or maybe he’s got a better line on what it costs to delicately remove tens of tons of concrete and steel, including one bit that sits atop a 90-foot high pillar, than Landrieu does. His company shows up on a listing at a site called BusinessMinority.com, so take that for what it’s worth.

Now is the time for Landrieu to declare victory and give up on this effort, because Cuzan Services’ phones are almost assuredly on fire with calls from angry preservationists and that would likely serve to increase Hymes’ price rather than make it go down.

Otherwise, Landrieu will have to go back to his anonymous donors and ask them to nearly quadruple their financial commitments to pay for a project that will make their names mud with what poll after poll shows is two-thirds of the people of Louisiana. That’s not a particularly easy ask. Which means that if Landrieu really wants to get those bulldozers moving he’s going to have to dip into the city treasury to pay Hymes’ extortionate removal fee.

Which leads us to the question in the headline: exactly whose rice bowl gets broken in order to pay for a trio of statues to come down? What legitimate functions of government in New Orleans get short shrift in order to cover the costs of destroying some of the city’s tourist attractions?

An intelligent mayor would answer “None” and call Suber and the rest of the Creole Taliban with the bad news. Landrieu, for all his misplaced pandering on this issue, at least showed signs of intelligence in his instinct toward private removal money. Now he has to actually govern, and it will be interesting to see how he’ll proceed.

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