Walter Isaacson: How do we decide fate of Confederate monuments in New Orleans? _lowres

An inscription on a monument refers to the Battle at Liberty Place, in New Orleans, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015. Opponents and supporters of a move to remove prominent Confederate monuments are preparing to speak out over the fate of the monument in the French Quarter, dedicated to a violent uprising against a Reconstruction-era government. The fate of the monument is being discussed by a commission that oversees the French Quarter. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

It will cost about $125,000 to remove four controversial monuments to Confederate officials or a white supremacist uprising from their perches in New Orleans, and an anonymous donor has offered to foot the bill, according to Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s top aide.

The one-page report from Landrieu’s chief administrative officer, Andy Kopplin, was forwarded to the City Council this week along with similar short letters from other city department heads.

All the reports recommend the council vote to remove the four monuments that Landrieu has said should come down: the Robert E. Lee statue in Lee Circle on St. Charles Avenue, the Jefferson Davis monument on Jefferson Davis Parkway, the P.G.T. Beauregard statue at the entrance to City Park and the monument to the Battle of Liberty Place on Iberville Street.

The recommendations are the final step the administration must take under a legal process spelled out in an ordinance that was crafted in 1993 as a means of removing the Liberty Place monument, originally on Canal Street. The marker celebrates an uprising by the white supremacist White League against the state’s biracial Reconstruction-era government in 1874 that left 34 people dead.

The council now is free to take up the matter of the monuments’ fate, though no vote has been scheduled.

The findings of the various city departments come as little surprise, given Landrieu’s public calls to remove the four monuments.

He began pressing the issue earlier this summer after a shooter allegedly inspired by white supremacist ideology killed nine people at a black church in South Carolina. Other Southern cities and institutions moved to remove similar statues and symbols after the shootings.

What the city should do about the monuments has been a point of heated debate throughout the summer. Meetings held as part of the process have featured passionate arguments, and occasionally accusations and recriminations, from both sides. Those seeking to take the monuments down have said they represent a legacy of white supremacy and honor a war fought to preserve slavery, while monument supporters have argued they are part of the city’s history and removing them would be forgetting or whitewashing the past.

A significant question throughout the debate has been how much it would cost to take down the statues, with those hoping to prevent their removal arguing that it would consume resources that could be better spent on city services.

Kopplin’s report, however, estimates a cost of $126,000 and says an anonymous donor has already committed to paying that amount. The administration did not provide documentation supporting the cost estimate.

“It is true that these landmarks have served for decades as geographic compass points on the city’s grid, but how can this geographic compass compare to a great city’s moral compass?” Kopplin asked in his letter.

“These four monuments stand in direct contradiction to the ideal of freedom enshrined in our Constitution, and their presence in our city was meant to perpetuate a false history that literally puts the Confederacy on a pedestal,” he continued.

“True remembrance is required, not blind reverence.”

None of the reports from the administration specifies where the monuments would be moved to or whether the city anticipates any costs associated with their storage.

The 1993 ordinance calls for city departments to weigh in during a process aimed at determining whether monuments should be declared a “nuisance” and relocated because they promote ideologies “in conflict with the requirements of equal protection for all citizens,” “honor or praise” those who have killed police officers or support the supremacy of a particular race. The ordinance also allows for monuments that could spark violent protests or require expensive upkeep or maintenance to be removed.

City officials have focused on those points as they have argued for the monuments’ removal, particularly drawing attention to the post-Reconstruction ideology known as the “Lost Cause,” which sought to rehabilitate the Confederacy and ensure white domination of Southern governments and society.

The city’s Historic District Landmarks Commission, Human Relations Commission and Vieux Carre Commission all have signed off on the monuments’ removal based on such arguments.

In his letter to the City Council, Police Superintendent Michael Harrison noted a 1993 clash between supporters of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and civil rights activists over the Liberty Place monument as a sign the sites could inspire protests. He also said all the monuments have been vandalized over the years.

Cleaning graffiti off the statues has cost $4,000 so far this year, according to the city’s Department of Property Management.

“I must also be clear that I believe the existence of the Liberty Place monument to be particularly shameful,” Harrison wrote. “This monument is not simply a reminder of a troubled past; it was originally commissioned explicitly to celebrate an uprising that resulted in the deaths of 13 police officers.”

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.