NO.landrieu.052017

Mayor Mitch Landrieu gives a speech at Gallier Hall about his reasons for removing Confederate monuments around the city in New Orleans, La. Friday, May 19, 2017. 

After an impassioned speech over the removal of Confederate monuments, New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu said he was surprised his words went viral in an interview ahead of his Sunday appearance on "Meet The Press."

"I commend it to people, I'm surprised ... that the speech went viral. It was intended for a local audience," he said in a recorded interview with NBC's Chuck Todd, "but evidently it's an issue that people across the country are dealing with and I hope they do it in a forthright, honest manner with each other."

Landrieu's invitation to appear on the show is an example of the national media's newfound interest in the New Orleans mayor, a white Southern politician who has made a point to address racial issues in the majority-black city.

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Shortly after the removal of a monument to a white Reconstruction-era militia uprising, Landrieu appeared on several national cable television shows and was mentioned in a New York Times article as a possible contender in the 2020 presidential race.

While the mayor has fielded requests for national interviews since his speech, NBC's request is the first he's accepted, spokesman Tyronne Walker said.

"First of all, I didn't start the Civil War and I certainly didn't start the racial divide that this country has had," he said in the interview. "I simply recognized for the people that we still have it, and that the monuments that were in place were really signs of oppression for 67 percent of my city that is forced to walk by them. And I found that morally offensive." 

The removals of monuments to Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis and a Reconstruction-era uprising known as the Battle of Liberty Place remains a hotly contested issue in Louisiana, where protesters continue to demonstrate. 

Some of the local activists who long called for the monuments to come down also insist that while the speech was well done, more remains to be done to purge symbols of the Confederacy from New Orleans and that more credit should be given to those who worked on the issue for decades, not just to the mayor.

Landrieu maintained in the interview that the decision had nothing to with politics. 

"This didn't have anything to do with politics. ... What a silly political decision to make for a politician who lives in the south to take on an issue that he knows most people in the south disagree with," Landrieu said. "This is something that really transcends race, it transcends politics, it transcends geography. It is a very important issue for the country to confront as we're being honest and truthful with ourselves about where we are, and where we're going." 

The episode featuring Mitch Landrieu will air at 9 a.m. (CST).

Staff writers Jeff Adelson and Jessica Williams contributed to this report. 

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