Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office said Thursday evening that his views on what should replace four Confederate monuments removed over the past month will serve as the “baseline” for a public process that will include consultations with various groups and potentially culminate in an online vote.
The announcement came hours after some people on both sides of the debate over the monuments had called for a more open and public process to determine what will replace statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate President Jefferson Davis and a monument to the Reconstruction-era uprising known as the Battle of Liberty Place.
In a news release issued the night before the Lee statue was plucked from its prominent downtown pedestal on May 19, city officials had declared that its St. Charles Avenue traffic circle would gain a water feature with public art and that an American flag would be placed at the former site of the Davis statue on Canal Street.
The city said then that City Park and City Hall officials would work together to determine a replacement for the Beauregard state because of potential legal issues over the ownership of the statue and the land on which it stood at the main entrance to the park. It also said the out-of-the-way site of the Liberty Place marker on Iberville Street near the river would be left vacant.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who has watched his national profile take off after leading the charge…
However, Landrieu Communications Director Tyronne Walker said Thursday evening that those plans aren’t set in stone and that the Mayor’s Office is working to flesh out the details of a process for determining what will go at the sites.
Walker said Landrieu has heard from City Council members as well as individuals and community groups who want the public to have a say in what will replace the dismantled statues.
“We’re going to lay out the plan and the process in the coming days. It’s premature for anyone to opine about a process that hasn’t been laid out,” Walker said. “If people constructively want to be a part of that, we take all of their ideas seriously.”
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Walker said the discussion likely would take into account both whatever specific proposals are made and the financial resources that various groups presenting the ideas could offer to make them a reality.
Walker said including the public in the process had been in the works for some time. However, last week's announcement said nothing about that idea and seemed to present the plans for the various sites as final.
Organizers with Take 'Em Down NOLA, a group dedicated to removing all of what it considers to be white supremacist symbols in the city, and Councilwoman Stacy Head, who has opposed the monuments’ removal, both said earlier Thursday that the community, not Landrieu, should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to deciding on the future of the former statues' sites.
Surrounded by about 20 supporters at the former site of the Davis statue at Canal Street and Jefferson Davis Parkway, Take 'Em Down organizer Malcolm Suber said Landrieu should begin a series of town hall meetings to determine what should replace the monuments.
“The mayor should not make that decision,” Suber said.
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About an equal number of pro-monument protesters, who have continued to gather at the empty pedestal where Davis’ statue formerly stood, waved Confederate flags, jeered, sang “Dixie” and called Suber “Satan” while he spoke.
A demand for a public process also came from Head, who said in an interview that “the mayor should not be the arbiter of all things public art. It should be done in a more thoughtful way.”
“The idea that one person gets to decide what object of beauty, art or icon is going to be placed in a prominent public position is absurd, even if I thought that person had impeccable taste,” she said. “I wouldn’t even want it to be me, and I think I have better taste than the mayor.”
Suber said he’d like to see replacements that are “symbols of liberation,” such as civil rights icons, and specifically suggested placing a statue of Dorothy Mae Taylor atop Lee’s pedestal, where it could watch over the city's Carnival parades each year. As a councilwoman, Taylor championed the 1991 ordinance that required parading Carnival krewes to desegregate.
Head did not suggest any specific replacements for the statues, though she said she disliked the idea of a water feature at Lee Circle because of the number of fountains that have fallen into disrepair throughout the city. And something generic or “cheesy,” like a fleur-de-lis or musical instrument, should not be on the table, she said.
Suber said Landrieu also should move toward taking down other statues in the city that Take 'Em Down has criticized, including the statue of Andrew Jackson in Jackson Square.
Landrieu has shown little inclination toward taking steps against other statues, and Suber said his group would prefer to have the mayor’s support but will move forward with petitions to the council on its own.
“This (controversy) has raised for all the people in the city the issues of racism and white supremacy,” Suber said. “We should take advantage of that.”