Now some 800 days have passed since the Beauregard, Davis, and Lee statues have remained in New Orleans storage units following their removal from public view.
Once these statues were taken down, it was crystal clear that then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu had no plans for their disposition. Unfortunately, Mayor LaToya Cantrell inherited this untidiness gifted by Landrieu. One month before her inauguration, Cantrell, made it publicly known she wanted the monument issue resolved by the end of her first month in office. The mayor-elect recognized the statues, while in city storage, would persist as a distraction. Any time Cantrell, or members of her staff, might spend dealing with the “monument issue” would result in less time given to more pressing issues facing New Orleans and its citizens.
Although delaying a difficult decision might make sense in the short run, it seldom makes sense in the long run. It is has been 14 months since Ms. Cantrell became mayor, and the three statues remain in city storage. One must ask why. Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser has offered to take possession of the statues and place them in one or more appropriate state park. Since becoming mayor, Cantrell has shown fortitude by making difficult decisions without wavering. Yet, she continues to postpone closing the festering wound opened by her predecessor. The worst kind of decision a leader can make is to make no decision while hoping the problem will disappear.
Contrary to contentions by some local op-ed writers, the New Orleans “nuisance” ordinance, which paved the way for the removal of the statues, offers unambiguous options the city can adopt to transfer the statues out of its control. Section (d) of the ordinance states: The thing removed may then be displayed indoors at an appropriate facility, such as a museum or stored, donated (if it has no monetary value) or otherwise disposed of in accordance with provisions of law.
In writing this ordinance, the New Orleans City Council wisely outlined several options the city could utilize when contemplating the future of a removed statue. The insertion of the word “may” allows Cantrell leeway which would not have been available had the City Council used either the words “must” or “shall.” More noteworthy is the ordinance-option to dispose of the statues in accordance “with provisions of law.” Allowing the lieutenant governor to take possession of these historically significant statues would fulfill the ordinance requirement.
There is no decision Cantrell can make which will receive universal acceptance. She needs to tap the courage we know she possesses and accept the win-win being offered by the lieutenant governor. When that happens, New Orleans can close the book on the Confederate monument chapter.