A group that opposes Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s plan to remove four monuments to the Confederacy says it has collected more than 31,000 signatures on petitions to stop the city from taking action.
The Monumental Task Committee, a nonprofit with volunteers who have helped maintain and repair various statues and structures in the New Orleans area, was delivering copies of the petition to the mayor and city council Tuesday (Dec. 8), just ahead of an anticipated vote on the issue.
Pierre McGraw, president of the Monumental Task Committee, said its members invited the mayor and council members to participate in an August forum to discuss options to removal. City officials did not attend the meeting, which produced the idea to add interpretive plaques at the four monuments in question – statues of Robert E. Lee at Lee Circle, P.G.T. Beauregard near City Park and Jefferson Davis in Mid-City, and the Battle of Liberty Place obelisk at the foot of Iberville Street.
In addition, the group says it would like to see additional statues erected and has proposed new sites for monument parks and circles around the city.
McGraw and members of the group held a news conference Tuesday at the Margaret Haughery statue, which it recently restored, before bringing the petitions to City Hall.
“Despite repeated requests for meetings with the mayor’s office and the Office of Property Management to discuss these outlined solutions and help identify methods to interpret the monuments so they serve a more productive purpose in our community, these requests have gone unanswered,” McGraw said. “Instead, the mayor has chosen to railroad his ordinance through the City Council in the busy and sacred holiday season without any meaningful hearing process. This is very worrisome.”
McGraw said other groups have approached the Monumental Task Committee about erecting statues in the city to commemorate the Freedom Riders of the civil rights movement, Chef Paul Prudhomme, Revolutionary War soldiers and a 19th century U.S. president. He would not identify the other groups or give more specifics on the proposed statues.
Signatures on the petition were gathered outside New Orleans Saints’ games, door-to-door and by word of mouth, McGraw said. While signatures were collected from individuals outside of the city, the bulk is “New Orleans-centric,” he said, without providing any breakdown.
In July, the mayor launched a process to have the city council declare the four monuments a public nuisance. It included public hearings during meetings of the Human Relations Commission and the Historic District Landmarks Commission. Both voted in favor of removing the monuments, leaving the City Council to make a final decision. It has scheduled a special meeting on Dec. 18 to consider the mayor’s proposal.
McGraw considers the mayor’s public hearing process flawed, noting the two commissions are “stacked with people he appointed.” Even during next week’s City Council meeting, the one to two minutes allowed for public comment per speaker are inadequate for offering alternatives to removing the monuments, he said.
“How would you expect that to be fair?” he asked.
Instead, McGraw said his group and others interested in the fate of the monuments should have been allowed to “come to the table” and offer suggestions before the City Council votes on the mayor’s proposal.
In his remarks, McGraw questioned whether the mayor’s process for removing the monuments was legal. Asked afterward whether the group would file a lawsuit to block such action, he declined to explain further.
There was no immediate response from the mayor’s office.
The Monumental Task Committee also provided seven proposed new monument sites, including traffic circles and existing parks:
• Elysian Fields Avenue and Lakeshore Drive, near the University of New Orleans campus;
• Elysian Fields at Leon C. Simon Drive, also near UNO;
• Gentilly Boulevard at St. Bernard Avenue;
• Washington Square Park in Faubourg Marigny;
• Crescent Park along the Mississippi River;
• the median along Basin Street;
• Duncan Plaza next to City Hall; and
• Fontainebleau Drive at Napoleon Avenue and Broad Street.
Monumental Task Committee’s “Constructive Solutions” below: