Mayor Mitch Landrieu apologized Wednesday to one of his longtime supporters, businessman Frank Stewart, seeking to de-escalate a spat between the two over Stewart’s opposition to the mayor’s plan to take down four Confederate-era monuments.In a rambling, incoherent tl;dr post yesterday, I threw in a bit about this.
Stewart purchased a two-page advertisement Wednesday in The New Orleans Advocate titled “Dear Mitch — Shame on You.”
Mitch can't say this explicitly but there's probably a lot more pro-Confederate sentiment out in the business community than anyone wants to admit. Because he often counts a lot of these people among his own donors and allies, it's no wonder this has been so exasperating for him.There's a faint echo here of Ray Nagin's post-Katrina political crisis. Not to get too far into it but here's a quick summary. Nagin was elected in 2002 with the backing of the city's upper and business class whites. I don't know if Stewart was among the Nagin coalition but people like him were. There was a mayoral election during the immediate aftermath of the flood. At this time, restless plutocrats abandoned Nagin and sought to install one of their own in an effort to rebuild the city, "demographically, geographically and politically.”
They couldn't settle on a single favorite candidate, though. Twenty something people ran in the primary. Rob Couhig, Peggy Wilson, Ron Forman and a few others all competed for the white money vote but couldn't quite corner it. So the 2006 runoff came down to the centrist neoliberal Mitch and the ideologically similar Nagin who had cynically shifted to a superficial sort of racial politics. The big public break for Nagin was the famous "Chocolate City" speech. Even though his former backers were already intent on leaving him, the effect, Nagin publicly declaring his independence, granted him a perceived initiative that carried him to reelection.
Mitch made a similar break when he threw his weight behind the monuments movement although he probably didn't do it on purpose. Most likely, Landrieu seized an opportunity bolster his already rising national profile without fully considering, or perhaps while simply dismissing, the local political consequences. It's still probably a good decision for Mitch politically. It's definitely the right decision for the city. But it also seems like Landrieu was genuinely surprised at his friends' hurt feelings. Landrieu says he has a "a strong and principled disagreement” with his friend. But he's probably just miffed that the guy has an opinion at all. This is what happens when cynical politicians fail to fully appreciate that other people actually care about the effect of their policy choices.
It also points out something to watch for in the coming municipal elections. The neoliberal model tells us it's possible to win and hold office in this city branding oneself as a "strong and principled" progressive and still maintain alliances and friendships among the old white money crowd. But as a more authentic, confrontational politics emerges that engages more people on issues they actually care about, the neoliberal model becomes less and less coherent. If New Orleans is going to build a new politics in 2017, we might be able to gauge its progress through the continued hurt feelings of elites.