Treme: David Simon's strange spat with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Notes from different corners of the world.
April 22 2011 11:13 AM

There Was a House in New Orleans. Now There Isn't.

Treme creator David Simon's strange spat with Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

The houses in question used in the Treme poster. Click to expand view.
The houses pictured in this Treme ad have now been demolished

Last year, on the eve of the premiere of his latest HBO drama, Treme, the acclaimed journalist-turned-television impresario David Simon published an open letter to the citizens of New Orleans in the pages of the Times-Picayune. In a pre-emptive mea culpa, Simon pleaded with the city's inhabitants to forgive him and his team for certain creative liberties they had taken. Simon had gone to great lengths to make the show accurate. But it wouldn't be completely true to life, he warned.

"Treme is drama, and therefore artifice," Simon reminded New Orleanians, who are famously protective of their cultural traditions and deeply skeptical of outsiders who claim to understand them or try to represent them. "It is not journalism. It is not documentary. It is a fictional representation set in a real time and place, replete with moments of inside humor, local celebrity and galloping, unrestrained meta."

But Simon had no idea just how "meta" things would get.


Just as the second season of Treme is about to begin airing, Simon has become entangled in a public feud with the mayor of New Orleans, the city's historic preservationists, and a host of community groups. It's a story line Simon himself might have dreamed up: something between urban tragedy and urban farce.

Last month, a group of preservationists approached Simon and asked him to write a letter to Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans. The group was trying to prevent the planned demolition of a stretch of abandoned houses that appeared prominently in the posters and advertisements HBO had used to promote the first season of Treme. Simon agreed, and in a letter to Landrieu he wrote with two of the show's executive producers, he urged the mayor to find an alternative.

The homes, Simon wrote, have "attained something of an iconic status" on account of their association with Treme. "What a powerful message it would send about the resiliency and recovery of the city for this block to be restored and transformed into desirable homes for returning residents," he added.

David Simon. Click image to expand.
David Simon

Apparently, Landrieu wasn't made aware of Simon's letter until last Thursday, the very day the buildings were set to be demolished. It's not clear whether it would have made any difference if he had known earlier. At a press conference held in front of the homes—a block of dilapidated cottages, sadly unremarkable by New Orleans standards—Landrieu lashed out at Simon and the preservationists.

"People show up at the last minute and say, 'Please don't,' " said Landrieu, a talented, popular politician who nonetheless is prone to being defensive and a bit thin-skinned. "Well, we're moving on in the city of New Orleans." Dismissing his critics as dilettantes, Landrieu became visibly agitated. "I'm calling upon the producers of Treme, I'm calling on anybody who has resources, who wants to partner with us and bring something other than suggestions to the table," he said. "Because talk is cheap."

It's true that Simon had not articulated a specific plan or made a concrete offer of funding. But Simon later said that if the mayor's office had responded to his letter, he would have worked with the preservationists to help finance an alternative. Landrieu said at the press conference that he had spoken on the phone with Simon about the buildings that morning. "I asked him, did you know they were in imminent danger of collapse? Did you know they were a danger to public safety?" Landrieu claimed. "He said 'No, I didn't know that.' "

Arrayed behind Landrieu at the press conference was a group of African-American neighborhood leaders who supported his decision, including two pastors from nearby churches. They wanted the houses torn down because they were used by drug dealers, making an already-dangerous neighborhood even more dangerous.


Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

Even if You Don’t Like Batman, You Might Like Gotham

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059


Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Nicolas Sarkozy, Thrice Married, Says Gay Marriage Humiliates the Family

  News & Politics
Sept. 22 2014 5:33 PM The Politics of Stigma Why are lighter-skinned Latinos and Asians more likely to vote Republican?
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
Sept. 22 2014 4:06 PM No, Women’s Soccer Does Not Have a Domestic Violence Problem Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 5:45 PM The University of California Corrects “Injustice” by Making Its Rich Chancellors Even Richer
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.