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AXE FILES: One-On-One Interview With Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired August 4, 2018 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[19:00:11] ANNOUNCER: Tonight on THE AXE FILES: former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu takes on President Trump's performance on the world stage.

MITCH LANDRIEU, FORMER MAYOR, NEW ORLEANS: He weakened us in a way we that we have never been weakened before, and he should be ashamed of himself.

ANNOUNCER: His fight to remove Confederate monuments.

LANDRIEU: It became really, really clear that this was wrong and that it needed to be corrected.

ANNOUNCER: Race in America.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN: Do you think the president is a racist?

LANDRIEU: In the South, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, I mean, it's usually a duck.

ANNOUNCER: And whether he will run for president in 2020.

AXELROD: So Mitch, I want to ask you this, how seriously are you thinking about it?

ANNOUNCER: Welcome to THE AXE FILES.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN HOST: Mitch Landrieu, good to see you. We are here in your hometown of New Orleans, in the cafe reconcile. Tell me why this is such a special place to you.

MITCH LANDRIEU, FORMER NEW ORLEANS MAYOR: Well, when I grew up, there was a Jesuit priest, they call father Harry Thompson. He was the president of Jesuit High school who after finishing that one actually became the pastor of a downtown inner city church and started talking about ways to help kids and to connect people with money with people who needed money. And he wanted to start a place where kids could have a better future. And he said, look, we have got to go to, you know, the toughest of the tough places and find the people who need help most. And the children and young people that are working here are kids who have lived the toughest of the toughest lives in America. That you know, some of them have been shot. Some of them are parents of children that have been shot. Some of them are young men and women that have served time in jail and have come out and now they are actually running this facility. So now --.

AXELROD: They certainly go on from here.

LANDRIEU: And they go on from here generally right now, every restaurant, hotel, every business that is looking for really great employees comes here because these kids, that is just one of them who has been shot three times, actually now is working really, got a stable job, raising a family and he is doing great stuff. And so, this is a really special place.

AXELROD: You know, I read your wonderful memoir that you put out this year, "in the shadow of statues: a white southerner confronts history." And you write about your family. And it seems as if reconciliation, racial reconciliation has been kind of a mission of the Landrieu family for 60 years. I mean, your dad went to the legislature. Your dad, Moon Landrieu, went to the legislature at the height of the battle over civil rights and voted time and again against Jim Crow laws. He came to see a counsel led the fight to get the confederate flag out of the city council. He became mayor and desegregated the workforce. You grew up around this issue all your life.

LANDRIEU: Yes, I can't remember a moment in my life where race was not a part of it. It wasn't all reconciliation. It was a lot of battles. My dad really was a very interesting because he was 29 years old. He was married. He had four babies. My mother who has had nine children in 11 years. They are both still alive. They both happy. They have 38 grandchildren now.

But back in 1960, when things were, I mean, really intense, how he found the courage to vote against the segregation package. Like it was only one of two legislative. So I asked him. I said, you know, what are you thinking about? He said, well, I was really fighting for my friends. He had befriended a young man on the first day of law school who is name is Norman Francis. Norman was better looking, faster, and smart than everybody else. And I asked my father, he said, well, he informed me, he taught me about what it was like to walk in somebody else's shoes. And he said, I wasn't just fighting for Norman. I was fighting for my right to be with my friends. And we just kind of grew up in that ethos. And I can't remember as I written in the book, there have been a number of different examples throughout our life where, you know, white people have been really angry at us because they think --.

AXELROD: Wow. You experienced that as a kid.

LANDRIEU: No. I did, when I was 13 years old. Back then it was white people in the council chamber really trying to get after the city of New Orleans because the city was becoming majority African- American. It was on its way to it. And there were, you know, rabid people, you know, in the streets yelling and screaming about integration.

The story is it that one afternoon, father Harry Thompson, the same priest that helped, you know, started this facility with the community came to my classroom, and he said, you know, I need to walk you across the street to the gym because there's been a death threat. So when I got over there, I was in the locker room. And you know, of course, all my friends ran in and say, there's some woman outside that says she wants to kill you. And of course, this is was the same angry white woman who was just as angry as she could be. And she went to reach in her purse and one of my friends said, she has a gun. And of course they did what great friends would do, they scattered to the winds and left me standing there by myself. And she took out a card and threw it at me. I remember it. She threw it at me. And it had written on it, your father is an "n" lover. He ruined the city. You know, you should be ashamed of yourself.

I wasn't an adult but I was old enough and mature enough to kind of get what that was. So I mean, even back then, it was part of all of our lives. But I wasn't unique. I mean, it happened to lots of people in the city in the south --.

[19:05:35] AXELROD: But what was striking is you say back then. But when you made the decision to remove confederate statues from places of honor here in New Orleans, you met with some of those very same reactions. Your children met with some of those same reactions. And that was 40 years later.

LANDRIEU: Yes. That makes you understand that we are not really through the issue of race. You know, when president Obama got elected, the country went, wow. We elected our first black president. Thank God, we got -- finished with that now. We are past it. And of course, that's not true.

Every day in America as we are witness to African-Americans continue to suffer discrimination. We continue to tear ourselves apart on the issue of race. And on the issue of race in America which is of course the greatest fault line of American politics. I have just come to learn that you can't go over this. You can't go around it. You have to kind of go through it. You have to talk through it and work through it. And I made a political miscalculation. I had assumed that we were further along. Then after the shootings in Charleston, when Governor Haley and the entire folks in South Carolina, in South Carolina, finally took down the flag, I said, you know, --

AXELROD: The confederate flag.

LANDRIEU: The confederate flag. Number one, it's time to take the monuments down. But secondly, everybody is going to get it. And everybody didn't get it. And it's much too hard a fight to have in that year than we should have.

AXELROD: In fact, you got elected with overwhelming support and re- elected with overwhelming support of both white and black residents of the city. Your support among whites in New Orleans dropped by half.

LANDRIEU: The city was racially united when I came. When I got re- elected, it was for the most part, you know, the same. When I took those monuments down, though, it really, really, really touched people in a much deeper way. And I didn't lose all of my white support. But I lost half of it. In a way that will never come back to me.

And what was curious to me as a politician is, I have been involved, as you know, for 30 years. I was a legislator for 16 years.

AXELROD: Yes. When I met we both had hair.

LANDRIEU: That was a long time ago. And I have voted on some tough issues. And I have had people come up to me and say, you know, I didn't like the way you voted on the abortion issue or capital punishment or whatever, but I generally like you and think you are a good guy and I will vote for you again.

On this thing, it was much deeper than any other action that I have taken, where people said to me, I will never, ever support you again which I thought was really curious.

AXELROD: You actually wrote that today's public square is teeming with hatred we haven't seen since the 1960s. Why do you think that is?

LANDRIEU: I don't really know.

AXELROD: I mean, it's too glib to say it's all because of Donald Trump.

LANDRIEU: Yes.

AXELROD: Because he sees done something and exploited it.

LANDRIEU: It is not. Listen, I'm a fan of the President. But it is not his cause. He didn't cause it. He is a symptom of it. Now, he is a perfect fit for exacerbating it. And he knows that strategically, division is working for him, even though it's working against the country. But there is a much deeper thing going on. And so, the reason -- I don't want to concentrate for the moment on this, just not on President Trump, other than to acknowledge that he has been complicit and he has put the accelerator on it. It is because it's a bigger issue for all of us and it is not just him. But it is worth noting that the germ, the seed of all this is racial hatred and a sense of white supremacy, which is why in the book I talk a lot about David Duke.

AXELROD: Yes.

LANDRIEU: And when David Duke was in the legislature with me --

AXELROD: White supremacist.

LANDRIEU: He was a neo-Nazi. He was the leader of the Ku Klux Klan. He actually got elected to the legislature in Louisiana 1990 and then subsequent to that ran for governor and ran for the United States Senate. And one or both those election got two out of every three white votes.

So I have said in the book that we are not seeing anything now on the national level that we haven't seen in Louisiana relating to that racial issue. But it's critically important. It is critical to talk about the cause of white supremacy, because we have seen examples in our history that when one group of people think they are superior to another, atrocities occur. And one of them is slavery. One of them is the holocaust. One of them is apartheid. You can see examples of where we has human beings have allowed ourselves because we didn't check our worst impulses and got to a place that crave very dark moments in history.

[19:10:16] AXELROD: Well, you actually said the parallels between David Duke and President Trump as demagogues are breathtaking, his make America great slogan is the dog whistle of all time.

LANDRIEU: Yes. So if you spend any time in the south and you go speak to most people, and particularly African-Americans, and you say, I want to make America great, they will go. I mean, I want make America great that we need to. But if you put the comma and "again" next to it, that is a dog whistle of epic proportions to people in the south, who are saying, when were we great? Like exactly what years were we great. What were we doing? And by the way, do you know what I might have been doing at that time?

So you know, taking people back to a time when they didn't have a right to vote, taking them back to a time when people couldn't work, you know, to slavery, and the Jim Crow laws, nobody wants to go back there. We all, I think, accept the fact that America is an exceptional country primarily because the idea of America, one that's based on freedom, not race, not creed, not color, not sexual orientation, not nation of origin, but just the need to be free, to feel liberty and to have justice, that is what makes America the greatest country in the world. And so, when people in the south hear that, they go, that's a dog whistle. And the reason why I compared him to David Duke --.

AXELROD: Do you think he is a racist? Do you think the President is a racist?

LANDRIEU: Well, let me answer that question this way. If I said yes, the headline would be, mayor calls president something, president rejects it and we never ever get to the issue.

I would recommend that people judge other people based on their behavior. And when you see an individual who is speaking in a way or creating a policy based on race, creed, color, sexual orientation, check off the boxes, that is by definition racist behavior. And so, I don't think there is any question that the president says the moment he began running for office, when he said all Mexicans are rapists, or we are talking about Muslims as being evil and terrorists or the fact the this false equivalence in Charlottesville between white supremacists and the protesters. Anybody that reads a book on racism would say, that kind of, you know, looks pretty good. And in the south, if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, I mean, it's usually a duck.

AXELROD: Well, I will take that as a yes. You wound your way around.

LANDRIEU: I think I explained myself. Well, that we ought to judge him -- it's not about calling people names. It's about accurately and without judgment describing behavior.

AXELROD: You watched what's going on at the border. Do you think that's part of dog whistling?

LANDRIEU: The answer to the question is yes. These are all different ways of exhibiting the same heart or the same mind, is that somehow these people are evil. This zero tolerance policy is premised on the simple notion that if you come into our country, whether you are trying to evidently flee persecution or not, by definition, remember, they used the word "criminal." It's a misdemeanor offense. That would be aching to calling your mother a criminal for running a red light and getting pulled over.

So when you continue to judge people based on those characteristics, it makes Americans afraid of them. Because if you can make them afraid, then you can get rid of due process. You can get rid of constitutional requirements. You can get all of those things and begin to oppress. That's not a good place for us to be as a country.

AXELROD: You twice were -- you elected lieutenant governor of this state, a state that gave Donald Trump a 20-point victory and where he is still very popular.

LANDRIEU: Yes. He is doing well here.

AXELROD: And you wouldn't call all those folks who voted for you and voted for him racist?

LANDRIEU: No, I would not.

AXELROD: But what is it that is provoking his support?

LANDRIEU: That's an excellent question. Not every person that voted for Donald Trump is a racist. There are some people -- not everybody that was against taking the monuments down was a racist. They in essence are frustrated with the fact that Washington is broken. And you know what, they are right. Congress is completely incapable of solving any problem.

This last election to me was really not about Donald Trump. It really wasn't about Hillary Clinton, although those were the two, you know, personages in whom people could vent their anger and their frustration. But when you look at operation Wall Street, you look at the tea party, and that whole thing, it is fair to say that people in America are feeling alienated and forgotten and left out. And all of that frustration found itself and manifested itself in the election of President Trump.

[19:15:01] ANNOUNCER: Next on THE AXE FILES.

LANDRIEU: Collusion in motion is what we witnessed this week. You can't have a coach playing for the other team.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[19:19:23] AXELROD: I worked for a guy who made a speech that catapulted him into the national conversation.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America.

AXELROD: You made a speech when you took these statues down that went viral.

LANDRIEU: These monuments celebrate a fictional, sanitized confederacy, ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, ignoring the terror that it actually stood for.

AXELROD: Why were people so hungry for the message of that speech?

LANDRIEU: Well first of all, when I gave this speech, I gave this speech in New Orleans to a local audience. I was actually delivering a speech not only to the people of New Orleans, but to white working class people as an invitation to see things in a different way, to explain the facts that had never been explained to them, to talk about what the real story as an inviting them to think about things differently in an effort to reconcile. And I was really shocked that anything that I said went viral, because as you know, 30 years of public service, you give a lot of speeches. And some of them you think are pretty good.

[19:20:35] AXELROD: So Mitch, I want to ask you this, and I don't want you to be -- I don't want you to go into politician evasive tactics here. People talk about you as a presidential candidate. And partly because of this message, and because there is this sense that we are deeply divided, and it's not healthy for the country. How seriously are you thinking about it?

LANDRIEU: Well, couple of things. First of all, it would be disingenuous of me to tell you that I don't hear that. I mean, a lot of people call and ask and talk. But I have been doing this for 30 years now so I listen to that with sceptical ears. I know, first of all, how hard it is to get elected, and secondly, how hard the job is, and how many people there are out there who would like to do the same thing.

So when you are thinking about something like that, you really have to think about it hard. You have to be 100 percent in. And so, I hear that. And I am thinking about it. When you say seriously, I am not doing what other people are doing, which is to say I'm not running and then preparing to or setting up all these apparatuses. Because there are a lot of really good people that are thinking about it.

But the most important thing, thought, David, and I'm not trying to skirt the issue, especially given this week, the way the president handled himself on the world stage where he humiliated the United States of America, and as I said before, took a knee to Putin, collusion in motion is what we witnessed this week. That has got to be clear even to some of President Trump's most ardent supporters, those who supported him because of trade or the economy, that was a bridge too far. That you can't have a coach playing for the other team. We just witnessed something that no other president of the United States has ever done.

AXELROD: Why do you think that was?

LANDRIEU: You know what? I'm not interested in figuring it out anymore. President Trump has us spinning around in circles trying to figure out why he does what he does. What we need to is focus on what his behavior is and what his decisions are and ask themselves whether he makes America stronger or make America weaker. And I think that he weakened us in a way that we never have been before and he should be ashamed of himself for the way he handled it. More importantly, putting that issue aside, we need to start figure out how to work around him as a country and how to contain --.

AXELROD: Hard to work around a President.

LANDRIEU: Well, it's -- but actually it is not impossible. And it is possible for the speaker of the House to grow some courage and to start checking the President's power. And there are lots of different ways that we can do that.

Some Republicans are going to have to hold their noses and vote for Democrats in the congressional race because Congress, if it will not do its job, and it has not done its job, they are going to have to change them. And you know what? If those folks don't do their jobs, they are going to have to change them as well.

Because this isn't about party anymore. This is about country. And the Republican Party has always prided itself as being the party of faith, family, and country, although I think the Democratic Party is as well. But how do you really maintain that sense of I'm a true patriot when you are allowing your leader to actually, you know, give to Russia whatever it is they think they need? Ronald Reagan is turning over in his grave, I can assure you of that.

AXELROD: So you think this is a watershed moment in your lives?

LANDRIEU: Well, I have no idea. I mean, how many watershed moments can you have before people --

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: This one feels different.

LANDRIEU: A lot of them have felt different to me. Everything we thought we knew about politics has not come to be. There is a silver ling and is that the country is tougher and more resilient than we thought it is. And the American people are more circumspect.

At some point in time, though, it becomes clear and obvious whether the President is working on behalf of the American people or against them, whether he's making us stronger or weaker, whether or not we are heading in the right direction or wrong direction.

The more important question is, why his base will stay with him no matter what. And you know what, even if they will, it is incumbent upon those people that are not in his base but like him for certain things to finally say, listen, this doesn't work anymore. It doesn't matter how high the stock market is or what the return to the shareholders is or what the unemployment rate is. You cannot basically undermine the very essence of what the United States of America is, because that can't last for a long time.

AXELROD: Leave yourself out of it for now. What kind of candidate do you think needs to run in 2020, to be an effective counterpoint to Trump?

LANDRIEU: That's an excellent question, because the Democratic Party can always be counted on to shoot itself in the foot. If it was a constructive primary, then, as you know, the Democratic Party, much like the Republican Party, in a family food fight, we have a number of different iterations. You have the progressive wing of the party really tilting to the left. Then you have basically the moderates. Then you have the people that kind of fall in both categories that are inside and outside players.

Just for me, this notion of having a new, young, Macron come along, that may happen. I'm more of a traditionalist. And you know, I would like somebody with great experience. I would like somebody that could restore America's stature in the world from day one. I would like to know somebody who knows exactly what they are doing because they have done that before that can stabilize and just rebalance the country for four years.

[19:25:50] AXELROD: It sounds like you are kind of describing Joe Biden.

LANDRIEU: I think I am, honestly. I think that if I had to pick today, I would -- and he could take over tomorrow, and you know, life would be a lot better for everybody. And plus, he understands working class folks in a way that most people don't. But for my liking, I think stability, I think certainty, I think a good world view, I think experience, all that stuff should matter more to the world at the moment than anything else.

AXELROD: You know, a number of mayors are considering --

LANDRIEU: Yes. Some really good ones.

AXELROD: But what you are describing doesn't seem to speak to the mayors. No one has ever been elected president as a mayor.

LANDRIEU: That's true.

AXELROD: And do you think mayors have the experience necessary to run the country?

LANDRIEU: Yes, actually. Yes. But I want to state clearly about this. If we were in a normal time, and we are not in a normal time. We are in an abnormal time. Then my view might be different about who should ascend to the nomination of the Democratic Party.

As it relates to mayors, though, I don't think there's another job in America that actually prepares you to be president better than mayor of a major American city because mayors are executing every day. And that is what they do. They are in fact CEOs.

AXELROD: You are also more exposed. You get feedback from your constituents.

LANDRIEU: Well, let me tell you it works because I have gotten laced, you know, more times than I would like to. But in the morning if my wife said, we don't have any bread and you run to the store and grab some milk. You know, by the time I get out of my car and get that milk and get back to my car, I have been spoken to in ways that would make you blush. If the day before, you get something that people didn't like.

When I go to the cleaners, when I'm at the market. When I'm at a restaurant, what happened to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, that has happened to me.

(CROSSTALK)

LANDRIEU: I didn't like that, that made me completely uncomfortable. Obviously, I don't agree with Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But she is doing a job. And there has to be some private space for individuals that are working on behalf of the public to live. I fully believe that people ought to have a right to protest in a reasonable time, place, and manner. You can be as vociferous as you want, as passionate as you want. But at some point there has to be a line. Plus I thought it was just plain rude. We are not going to beat them by being like them.

AXELROD: What's your reaction to the movement among some Democrats to abolish ICE.?

LANDRIEU: That's a bad idea. I had, as you know, when I was mayor, a consent decree on our police department. We have to completely reform the way our police intact and engage in community policing. But we never said we were going to get rid of the police department. We said that we were going to fix it. The border agents, all of the, are operating at the direction of the president of the United States. Everything they do is at his direction. That's where the problem is. So I would not abolish ICE. I would refocus their attention on making sure that they take care of people and not hurting people.

I really can't think of a crueller thing that I have seen a politician do than separating mothers from their children. I think that really speaks poorly of the President. It doesn't reflect well on our country and it was really wrong.

ANNOUNCER: Next on THE AXE FILES.

LANDRIEU: One of the issues that I still don't have a handle on, don't understand, and won't accept, is the number of deaths of young African-American men on the streets of America.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) [19:33:59] AXELROD: What did you learn from your dad about politics and growing up in a -- in office from the time you were born. What did you learn about politics?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, I loved it. Not all of my brothers and sisters, I have eight brothers and sisters.

AXELROD: Yes.

LANDRIEU: And I kind of took --

AXELROD: Your sister Mary, who was the eldest, she took to it. She was the three term senator.

LANDRIEU: The boss. You know, both my mom and dad came from a focus of service. We are catholic. We were born kind of into the ethos during the civil rights movement. My mom and dad were always about helping other people. And that was true in politics. It was true in private life. And I can remember just really liking what my dad did and hanging out with him. So I used to jump in the car on Saturdays, when he was mayor going to kind of drive around the city, which is what mayors do.

AXELROD: Yes.

LANDRIEU: They drive around so they can look at the pothole or look at the light that's out so you know. And he would come home, never told me this, he would come to the office and say, that plant that is on 2nd --

[19:35:00] AXELROD: When he got into the office because he'd drive to every day to different route to see whether this abandoned building had been taken down, whether this light was fixed.

LANDRIEU: Correct. And he tricked. And he would say who was supposed to fix it? He say we talked about it. It is fixed. It is not fixed. I was out there today. Get your behind out there and fix it. But he would always tell me, you know, really in the course of life, without being theoretical, be fair. You know, be just. Treat other people well. And he would always tell me something that got later in my life, just like bothered the hell out of me. When I go to him, I said, what do you think I should do? And he would say play your politics in the future.

He just reverberate in my mind. Play your politics in the future. Whatever happened, don't ignore it. But ask yourself what's the smart thing to do? Not the, I'm going to get you back thing. What's the wise thing to do, you know, for the right reason? And that always was helpful to me.

AXELROD: You wanted the job so much you ran for it several times before you got it.

LANDRIEU: Yes, three times.

AXELROD: What did you learn? LANDRIEU: It's awful to lose. It is a miserable - there is nothing

good about that. You know how people say it's a -- you do learn from it because you would be an idiot not to learn from, you know, the stupid things you do that cause you to lose, but it's not fun. You would never choose to do that, but I lost twice. And I have always wanted to be, I mean, this in my DNA, I have always want to be mayor of the city of New Orleans.

AXELROD: You walked into a city that was in desperate shape in 2010. Still reeling from Katrina, fiscal problems and so on. You did a lot of great work to deal with those issues. The one issue that you struggled with right to the end was violent.

Talk about that because you write very movingly in this book about the experience of having to go console fathers and mothers.

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, serving was really the greatest honor of my life. It was a tough, tough, tough eight years. We rebuilt a great American city. But one of the issues that I still don't have a handle on, don't understand and won't accept is the number of deaths of young African-American men on the streets of America that nobody seems, other than their parents and family members to want to spend a lot of time on. I think it's a fixable problem. And so it's something that I really wanted to know and understand.

AXELROD: How is it a fixable problem? I come from Chicago. Tremendous issues there.

LANDRIEU: I'm walking by faith here, not by sight. So this isn't rocket science. This is human beings hurting other human being mostly with guns. I wanted to explore the notion that violence is a public health threat that it transmits itself like a virus. That it is a behavioural pattern that developing over time. Not just because of personal choices, but because of conditions that people live in.

And so, I just simply wanted to save kids' lives. Now we got the murder rate down to as low it has been since 1970. However, that number is still (INAUDIBLE) too high. And in cities in America, in Baltimore and Chicago, even in some neighborhoods in New York who has miraculously reduced their murder rate dramatically. You have young men being killed at numbers that are just not acceptable. That's not smart for a country that wants to be --

AXELROD: Maybe what we should be doing is encouraging projects like cafe reconcile all over this country and programs that are bubbling up from the community.

LANDRIEU: Correct.

AXELROD: And have the potential to give hope and opportunity to kids who don't have it.

LANDRIEU: Well, let me give you just a couple of examples. It is true, well, let me start off with the hard stuff. It is not true that guns don't kill people. Guns do kill people and people use guns to kill people so we need to speak the truth, but it's not just guns. Education is really important, early childhood education. The environment is important. The lack of jobs is important. Housing is important. Workforce training is important.

AXELROD: This issue of the police and community relationship excessive force on the part of police, this is the issue that caused NFL players to kneel. How you revolve that really, really difficult question?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, it is a really question. The first and most important thing is safety and security. But again, as I say, one of the great issues is how do you balance safety with civil liberties.

In a city (INAUDIBLE), when I became mayor, as I said that federal department of justice was coming in to the city because we had had way too many police involved shootings and we have had to re-establish the relationship between the police and community because if the community doesn't trust police, they won't call them. And then say settle their di differences themselves and that turns into chaos.

So you have to go through this very aggressive process of retraining police officers to know when to use force and when not to. The use of force can never be the first thing. It always has to be the last thing. And police have to be part of the community. They have to be from it and of it and working to it. If you are not doing that, then you are not in a position to actually keep the community safe.

Now there are some people who think that police ought to carry around batons, they ought to beat people, they ought to shoot them when they want. That's just awful and that's what the issue of profiling was about again back to what you and I started off with as when you asked me about President Trump.

The same rules apply to him as apply to the young African-American kid on the street. You judge him by his behavior. You don't judge him by his race, his creed, his color, his party affiliation. And if he is engaged in bad behavior, you appropriately use the kind of power the state gives you in a way that protects security and civil liberties. It is absolutely possible to get done. It's only people who want to take a shortcut that are not concerned about those essential American ideals that want to put us in a position of weakness. And if you don't do it right, you are going to cause more harm, you going to cause more crime, not less.

[19:40:58] ANNOUNCER: Coming up next on THE AXE FILES.

AXELROD: You couldn't get someone to give you, to lease you a crane to remove these statues. I mean, the resistance --

LANDRIEU: Was intense.

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(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) [19:45:23] AXELROD: So here on top of this big column, stood for what a century or more. General Robert E. Lee. This is one of the great intersections in New Orleans. You drove past it every day for years and didn't think anything of it.

LANDRIEU: Never thought about it. Never occurred to me. I knew who Robert Lee was. But it never really got in my soul of my psyche about who how damaging that was to some of my friends until --

AXELROD: And one of your friends was the one who raised it with you.

LANDRIEU: Right. It was Wenton who we grew up together.

AXELROD: Wenton Marcels (ph).

LANDRIEU: And now I find myself 56 years old. I'm the mayor of a major American city. And then (INAUDIBLE) in cities are really important. They say a lot about who they are and what they love and what they hate, et cetera, and Wenton said to me, you know, you really need to take that statue down. And I said why would I do that? He goes, well, have you thought about him from my perspective. And you had a situations in your life where people just smack you in the head, you go --.

AXELROD: Well, it goes to what your father told you.

LANDRIEU: Right, exactly.

AXELROD: By putting yourself in someone else's shoes.

LANDRIEU: Putting yourself in somebody else's shoes. So you know, right away, my brain because I'm a politician was like, man, that's a, when you're asking me for a really, really big thing, but I did tell him, let me think about it. And when you say you are going to think about it and you really do and I began to research Robert E. Lee was, what his connection to New Orleans was, how is that statue - you got (INAUDIBLE) why he was there.

AXELROD: He virtually had no connection other than he was --.

LANDRIEU: He had no connection except he was an icon of the confederacy. And of course, the more I began to research, I stumbled my way into the real history and the real truth, is that the cult of a lost cause was a movement that occurred well after the civil war ended to basically put a foot down and controvert what really happened during the civil war and to try to perpetuate this notion that somehow the civil war was the great cause that was loss and the country was worse for it. And I essentially say, wait a minute. These are the folks that fought to destroy the United States of America, not to unify it. And then finally as a major of a major African-American city that I'm rebuilding, you have to go to people and say, we are going to continue this charade that somehow, this man is a person of Robert that did something great for the country and it wasn't. So I call it had question on it. And so it was a recognition that the city of New Orleans is a continuous government and that I as the mayor at this point this time was continuing to work and we have to cross correct which is essentially --.

AXELROD: And you removed this and four - and three other sort of icons of the cult of the lost cause around this city. But it wasn't easy.

LANDRIEU: No, it was hard. But once I started putting myself in the shoes of Wenton and other people, this was so clearly wrong and so clearly out of sync what the people of the United States knew about New Orleans which is that we are a great multicultural mecca. There is no other city in America even although there are cities that are little bit more diverse than us. That have the kind of accumulation of this uniquely American notion that we are one. Our food, our music, our entire ethos is that we are all in this together and to have icons like this standing in places of reference that actually were supportive of things that were hypothetical to everything that New Orleans ever was and ever is didn't make a lot of sense to me. So once I knew, it became pretty clear to me what had to be done.

AXELROD: And yet, you couldn't find a contractor. You found a contractor, his car was fire bombed just for taking on the assignment and he backed out. You couldn't get someone to give you - to lease you a crane to remove the statues.

LANDRIEU: Correct.

AXELROD: I mean, the resistance --.

LANDRIEU: Was intense.

AXELROD: Yes.

LANDRIEU: And so, again, I got another reputation. What institutional racism really means. You know, when white people hear that, they think it is an amorphous thing, when actually, it is a real thing. When people who have power, then they have the money, they have the equipment, they have the manpower decide that you are not going to get something done, it doesn't matter how just your cause is. It gets that much harder. And African-Americans have lived that their entire lives. And so, in the speech, I write a couple of times and use a couple of different examples about put yourself in the shoes in the instance of a young 12-year-old young African-American girl who is coming down the street looking at him.

AXELROD: Yes.

LANDRIEU: Can you look into the eyes of this young girl and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think that she feels inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see her future with limitless potential?

For the two years that I really thought about this, I talk today a lot of people. I really did a lot of thinking, a lot of praying, a lot of research. And it became really, really clear that this was wrong. And that it needed to be corrected. Then I really got to a point where I couldn't explain to my grandchildren who are yet to be born, you know, that I didn't do what was right in front of me. And we have to fight every step of the way but I'm immensely proud of it. I'm more emotional about it today than I was when I started. And I think it was the right thing to do.

[19:50:20] AXELROD: You were out there. You were lieutenant governor at the time of Katrina. You were in the boats. What was going through your mind as you were pulling people out of the water and seeing bodies on the water?

LANDRIEU: It was surreal, you know. I was, for a moment, we had in this country a complete breakdown of all the government systems. It didn't exist anymore for a couple of days. And there were -- it was a dark time. There were some really hard things. I mean, citizens, our fellow citizens who were dead on the side of the street. That's emotionally hard to see.

But even in the darkest time what was most encouraging to me is that people started lifting each other up. This is why I know the country surely got a future. I mean, we are seeing it here in our darkest time, in our darkest hour, people who would normally walk across the street from each other because they were afraid, ran in to lift each other up. And people weren't worried anymore about whether you were white, whether you are black, whether you are rich, whether you are poor, everybody was helping everybody out.

But it was an incredible experience. But it was a dark time.

AXELROD: There were - I mean, the whole community took a titanic hit. But the brunt of it was felt in the lower ninth ward the sense that -- the sense of isolation even during the storm in terms of getting relief to those areas created a feeling that maybe this was a systemic issue that the poor were just forgotten. And we saw it again in Puerto Rico.

(CROSSTALK)

LANDRIEU: It is true that the storm itself when it came in didn't discriminate. And I mean, everybody, everywhere, and everybody got hurt. General Honore who everybody knows is one of our great - he said it the best --

AXELROD: Who ran a relief effort.

LANDRIEU: Yes. He said when it's hot before are hotter when it's cold before it colder. And it is true that we have to witness. When you saw all those American citizens on the steps of the convention center and on the superdome and left behind. He said who left them behind? The immediate punch was the mayor the governor because they didn't get (INAUDIBLE).

The much harder question is, the country left them behind. That there are institutional failures that continue to exist in this country. Income and equality. People not having (INAUDIBLE). People not been able to go generational wealth. So that they didn't have the ability to get themselves out of harm's way. And of course, you saw this replicated in Puerto Rico. You know, we talk about Puerto Rico in isolation. But you remember

that year that Puerto Rico got hit by Maria, they had storms in Houston and they had storms in Florida. And right now Puerto Rico is the place that still doesn't have electricity. Puerto Rico continues to be forgotten, the part of America. That's part of who we are and the country has missed that.

AXELROD: And this area was really down on its luck after the storm and there are, there's all this activity, not just cafe reconcile but other activity here.

LANDRIEU: We are actually, again, in a neighborhood that used to be the most aggressive pipeline to prison. And now, with job training, the fact they reconcile, where they actually cultural center, this area start to come back. And you see this replicating itself across the city.

AXELROD: You know what I'm thinking? I'm thinking you are going to miss this job.

LANDRIEU: I do miss it. I do miss - I miss the construction. I mean, I'm a mechanic in a way. I like solving problems. I like helping people. I don't miss the relentlessness and the responsibility though. You know, being a responsible --.

AXELROD: You slept with a phone on you every day.

LANDRIEU: Every night I slept with a phone. There would be nights I was woken up because there was a catastrophic event. And I don't - I don't miss the relentlessness and the responsibility. It was actually a relief and a joy. I love my job. It was a great job but eight years of the was enough for me.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up next.

AXELROD: You played Chage Guevara. You played Jesus. President is a big role, man.

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[19:58:16] AXELROD: When you young you had a different kind of song and dance in mind than politics.

LANDRIEU: I did.

AXELROD: You saw yourself -- on Broadway, you starred in musicals and had a great voice and so on. You still sing from time to time at various occasions.

LANDRIEU: I do.

I aggravated my mother when I was a kid because I wanted to be everything. But I really wanted to be a professional actor. And I actually started taking singing lessons and dance lessons and music lessons. But when I was 16, I actually became a professional actor. I got my actor's equity card and it was really on my way. And then shows to go to a catholic university of America which I have a great theatre school. I have degree in political science and I have a degree in theater, double major.

AXELROD: Yes.

LANDRIEU: And I did that before Ronald Reagan became president. So I wasn't following him along. And people say, you know, you did because politics is theater. Well, in many ways it is. You know, we are peaking words. We create images. We are telling stories.

AXELROD: You are taking the stage. You are holding the stage.

LANDRIEU: But I liked it because I like in its essence. I mean, I actually love the work that great actors and great singers do and I have enjoyed it my entire life. I haven't been able to do much of it because I got stock --.

AXELROD: But you are free now, right.

LANDRIEU: I am free. I'm looking for a gig. I am straight up looking for a gig. If anybody got one.

AXELROD: You played Chage Guevara (ph). You Played Jesus.

LANDRIEU: I did.

AXELROD: President. President a big role, man.

Mitch Landrieu, it's good to be with you.

LANDRIEU: Thank you.

AXELROD: For more of my conversation with mayor Landrieu, you can go to Apple's stitcher or your favourite podcast app and subscribe to THE AXE FILES.

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