Over the last few days, Bob Tucker has received several texts and emails from family and friends asking if he’s seen his likeness briefly blown up on Rampart Street. It gave him “a chuckle.”
“The mythical mural saga,” he says, laughing. “Typical New Orleans — I had no clue about how this stuff happened.”
That “stuff” involves his portrait, likely based on a 1970 photograph, occupying a wall-sized mural mistaken by the artist as depicting Dutch Morial, the city’s first African-American mayor (1978-1986). The word “Dutch” was spray painted next to the image. (Tucker was never mayor, nor is he Dutch Morial.)
Tucker remembers the image on which it’s likely based, and he remembers a photographer shooting the photo at his desk in 1970, shortly after then-Mayor Moon Landrieu hired him as an executive assistant.
Tucker was the first black employee hired at City Hall in the 1970s under Landrieu; he also worked in Dutch Morial’s administration, was a director of the Regional Transit Authority, and later became an influential behind-the-scenes figure in local politics. Last year, he served as Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s campaign chairman, welcomed to the team as “a community activist and political strategist.”
On Friday, the mural appeared on 936 N. Rampart St. — a building that was at one time owned by Morial’s son Jacques.
By the next morning, the mural looked more like the former mayor.
A Google Image search of Dutch Morial brings up several pages of results for the former mayor, who also is the father of another former mayor, Marc Morial.
Buried in the results is the image of Tucker, preserved on the New Orleans Public Library’s former website. Tucker’s pose in the photo is identical to the one in the mural, which added a “City of New Orleans Mayor” button to his lapel.
California-based graffiti artist Jules Muck, aka Muck Rock, has painted several controversial images around New Orleans (among them: a gold-toothed chimpanzee near the former Lincoln Beach, a swastika-adorned Charles Manson that later became a clown smoking a joint), all breathlessly documented by NOLA.com writer Doug MacCash, largely ignoring debate and criticisms over Muck's work and presence in New Orleans. On Instagram, Muck posted video documenting the mural’s creation.
According to assessor records, Jeffrey Farshad bought the property at 936 N. Rampart St. from Jacques Morial in 2011.
Farshad owns multiple properties in New Orleans, including six “temporary” short-term rentals; he has permits pending for five full-time commercial short-term rentals and another “temporary” rental, according to city records.
The building on Rampart Street was raided by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service several years before that, when then-Mayor Marc Morial was the target in a federal probe; agents arrived with a search warrant and a battering ram, breaking down the doors to Jacques’ home and leaving with boxes of files and computers.
On Nov. 2, the Vieux Carre Commission (VCC) posted a pink stop-work order on the mural. Muck continued to paint, this time “correcting” the image to look like Morial. The VCC does not allow “painting a mural or any type of sign or logo on a building or wall surface,” according to its guidelines.
In the VCC’s incident summary on Nov. 2, the VCC notes “paint deterioration present on the property” and “graffiti impermissible" and "mural painted on the building.”
The mural caught the attention and ire of residents on social media for what they argued was the artist’s inability to distinguish the two black men; MacCash later wrote that “the Morial portrait received some spirited criticism because the image didn’t look much like the Morial most people remembered. More than one onlooker suggested that the artist accidentally modeled her painting on a photo of someone other than Morial.”
On Twitter, the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans corrected MacCash, saying, “She's being criticized for often painting blatantly offensive, ill-informed, disrespectful and occasionally racist imagery, in this case illegally in the French Quarter.”
According to MacCash, Muck Rock “responded to her critics by returning to the site and painting a more immediately recognizable image of the former mayor.”
In a caption accompanying a photo of the mural on Instagram, Muck wrote, “Amidst major freak out that I vandalized a French quarter property, I just want to let you guys know this is a temporary installation and the property (which was tagged and dirty) is already scheduled to be painted. Have no fear! Blank walls are coming!! Loving the southern hospitality as always 😂😂😂 #dutchmorial #historic #af”
A note titled “Notes for Muck Rock regarding portrait of Bob Tucker Dutch Morial” later appeared on the mural asking, “How did you get that so wrong?” (Rating: C-, 72/100)
"Maybe we all do lookalike," Tucker says, laughing.
The VCC returned to the property on Nov. 5, as the mural was being covered up. Ironically, Farshad also did not have a paint permit to cover it up, according to the VCC.