Well, Penguin Books has now released the first eight pages of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s pretentiously-titled new book, “In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History.” The preview, taken from the book’s prologue, certainly verifies that that if Landrieu used a ghostwriter, he got taken for a ride. Just take the book’s first paragraph:
Here I was, mayor of a major American city in the midst of a building boom like no other, filled with million-dollar construction jobs, and I couldn’t find anyone in town who would rent me a crane. Are you kidding me?!
Landrieu’s rhetorical question could just as easily be applied to the book itself. Is he kidding? Is this actually how he decided to start his book? The poor writing and shameless self-aggrandizement is more evocative of the style and comportment of President Trump’s Twitter account than a major published work. Landrieu effectively begins by announcing “I’m so great that the City of New Orleans is lousy with new construction,” and then he complains that he couldn’t get a crane to carry out a plan opposed by two-thirds of the state. The mind boggles!
Of course, Landrieu’s back-patting belies the fact that the Brookings Institute (which nobody would accuse of having conservative leanings) released a report last year ranking New Orleans dead last among America’s 100 largest cities in terms of economic prosperity between the years of 2010 and 2015. Landrieu can cite a “building boom” all he wants, but he’s leaving the city an economic basket case. Surely some humility is in order. Alas…
For the last eight years, we’d experienced the most aggressive rebuilding phase in our city’s history. We’d benefited from over $8 billion in public and private-sector investments, from housing to hospitals to new retail store to streets. We’d awarded billions of dollars of construction work to private contractors to actually do the rebuilding, and there are cranes across the skyline. Many of the construction companies, large and small, have made record profits during my time in City Hall.
Oh, spare us Mitch. Hurricane Katrina was over a decade ago. The actual rebuilding has been largely done for years, and there are not very many cranes in the skyline anymore. Some projects remain, but the Landrieu Administration will not be remembered as an unqualified boon, unless you add “doggle” to the end of it. The local economy is in the crapper as the city engages in endless self-praise.
The people and city of New Orleans, through their elected government, had made the decision to take down four Confederate monuments, and it wasn’t sitting well with some of the powerful business interests of the state.
Mayor Landrieu is showing uncharacteristic modesty here. It wasn’t “the people” who made the decision. It wasn’t the city council, although they ratified it with some reluctance. No, the decision to remove monuments was spearheaded by Landrieu himself. Prior to Landrieu pushing for the removal of Confederate monuments, the only organization pushing for that was a fringe movement lead by avowed Leninist-Marxist Malcolm Suber. Mitch needs to own this. After all, it’s the only reason he wrote this ostensibly terrible book.
As for those nefarious “business interests of the state” that opposed Landrieu, perhaps he could exercise a modicum of introspection and concede, at the very least, that his plans were highly controversial and opposed by solid majorities of Louisianans and people residing in the New Orleans Metropolitan Area (to my knowledge, only two polls were actually taken in Orleans Parish alone, and those yielded contradictory results). The opposition was simply your average citizen of Louisiana, and yes, it didn’t sit well with them.
When I put out a bid for contractors to put them [the monuments] down, a few responded. But they were immediately attacked on social media, got threatening calls at work and home, and were, in general, harassed. This kind of thing normally never happens. Afraid, most naturally backed away. One contractor stayed with us. And then his car was firebombed. From that moment on, I couldn’t find anyone willing to take the statues down.
Is Landrieu serious? You can’t be openly connected to anything highly controversial in this day and age and not be “attacked on social media” and even “get threatening calls” and be “harassed.” Why do you think various companies are disassociating themselves from the NRA in the wake of the Parkland shooting? They’re getting called out on social media, threatened, and harassed. It may or may not be fair, but to claim that “[t]his kind of thing normally never happens” is flatly ridiculous. There’s no way Landrieu is that naive. He knew what would happen.
And then, at the beginning of page two of Landrieu’s book, we see his first outright lie. “One contractor stayed with us,” Landrieu asserts, “[a]nd then his car was firebombed.” However, that’s not what happened. The contractor in question, David Mahler, had already backed out. He didn’t “stay with” the city. Only later, Mahler’s car, a $200,000 Lamborghini, was set ablaze while it was parked outside in his company’s parking lot. No evidence was ever discovered linking the incident to the monument contract that Mahler had already publicly rebuked.
I tried aggressive, personal appeals. I did whatever I could. I personally drove around the city and took pictures of the countless cranes and crane companies working on dozens of active construction projects across New Orleans. My staff called every construction company and every project foreman. We were blacklisted. Opponents sent a strong message that any company that dared step forward to help the city would pay a price economically and even personally.
Can you imagine? In the second half of the twenty-first century, tactics as old as burning crosses or social exclusion, just dressed up a little bit, were being used to stop what was now an official act authorized by the government in the legislative, judicial, and executive branches.
This is the very definition of institutionalized racism. You may have the law on your side, but if someone else controls the money, the machines, or the hardware you need to make your new law work, you are screwed. I learned more and more that this is exactly what has happened to African Americans over the last three centuries. This is the difference between de jure and de facto discrimination in today’s world. You can finally win legally, but still be completely unable to get the job done. The picture painted by African Americans of institutional racism is real and was acting itself out on the streets of New Orleans during this process in real time.
Landrieu’s incredulity at his difficulty in finding a crane is clearly feigned. He knew that what he was doing was unpopular both in the state and around New Orleans, and there is nothing untoward about social pressure being exerted on companies to refuse to associate themselves with efforts that super-majorities of the public oppose. Comparing the mere act of companies refusing to contract with the city to “cross burning” is a blatant exercise in hysterics. Refusing to abet Landrieu’s pet project was simply good PR.
Likewise, the notion that the monument controversy can be likened to “institutional racism” simply places Landrieu’s obscene narcissism on greater display. In truth, polls from CNN/OCR and NPR have shown that pluralities of black Americans actually oppose the removal of Confederate monuments. Landrieu has simply assumed, in the absence of evidence, that his crusade represented the wishes of most black Americans. It doesn’t. What could be more presumptive, even racist, that holding oneself out as the vanguard of an entire race of people that largely doesn’t even agree with you?
This only brings us through page two of Landrieu’s book, and frankly, I’ve had enough for now. Look for more of my responses as the week progresses.
Owen Courrèges is an attorney living in New Orleans. He has previously written for Uptown Messenger, the Reason Foundation, and the Lone Star Times.