It looks like they will be having Mardi Gras this year in New Orleans. But some people won't be celebrating. People who have been stuck in hotel rooms for months, and whose homes are in no condition to be inhabited, for example.
NEW ORLEANS - Some Hurricane Katrina refugees stuck in hotel rooms and unfamiliar surroundings across the United States are in no mood to party, and they are decrying the city's plans to hold a Mardi Gras celebration in February.
"This is not the time for fun. This is the time to put people's lives back on track," said Lillie Antoine, a 51-year-old refugee stuck in Tulsa, Okla.
City officials announced last month that New Orleans would hold an abbreviated Mardi Gras celebration. Civic boosters say the festivities can help revitalize New Orleans' economy, lift morale and show the world that the city is on its way back.
In addition to scaling the two-week Carnival season to eight days, the cash-strapped city is seeking corporate sponsors for the first time to pay for police overtime and the cleanup along the parade routes and the French Quarter.
Some storm refugees and black organizations say the party preparations are insensitive to the plight of so many displaced New Orleanians.
"I just think it sends the wrong message to have a celebration when people are not back in their houses," said Ernest Johnson, the Louisiana president of the
National Association for Colored People.
At a protest Monday of a few Katrina refugees in Atlanta, where the New Orleans Saints were playing, ChiQuita Simms said reconstruction should take precedence over partying.
"I'm not against Mardi Gras," said Simms, who has been living in an Atlanta hotel with her 14-year-old son. "I'm against their priorities." She added: "What you can do is guarantee me in two months you're going have a Mardi Gras, but you can't guarantee life will be back on?"
Before Katrina struck, the 2005 festivities were going to be one of the most exuberant parties in this party city's history — the 150th anniversary of Carnival parades in New Orleans. Mardi Gras falls on Feb. 28.
The dispute boiled over Saturday at a town hall meeting in Atlanta when Mayor Ray Nagin came under fire from an angry and raucous crowd of refugees for approving a Mardi Gras. Nagin then told the crowd that he had actually been against celebrating Mardi Gras but that tourism leaders forced his hand.
His comments stunned Carnival supporters back in New Orleans.
"He's like John Kerry — he was for it and then he was against it," bemoaned Ed Muniz, the captain of Endymion, one of the city's biggest and most glamorous parades.
Ernest Collins, the city's arts and entertainment director, said that the mayor made his Atlanta comments "in the heat of the moment" and that Nagin knows how important the celebration is.
But three days after the Atlanta meeting, Nagin suggested that during Carnival, hotels should put aside about a quarter of their rooms and an unspecified share of their profits to help bring people back. Hotel and tourism industry leaders were flabbergasted by the suggestion, and accused Nagin of "politicizing" Mardi Gras.
Flabbergasted? Now, I can understand the importance of Mardi Gras to the cultural and municipal heritage of the city, so I believe that resisting the calls to cancel the whole thing is the right decision. But aren't the people more important to a city than any of that? And I don't think that putting aside one quarter of the motel rooms and a portion (which doesn't necessarily even have to be that large) of their profits (a good chunk of which, incidentally would come back on their taxes) would be an unreasonable sacrifice to ask of those who are fortunate enough to 1) be there and 2) be in a position to actually make some money right now, in order to help those of their fellow citizens who have lost everything as a result of the awful events of earlier this year. The extraordinary events of this year in New Orleans are unprecedented, but this latest shows that the 'community leaders' are less interested in making a sacrifice that they could afford (remember, this is only a proposal that they help out with at least a token share of the PROFITS) to help with restoring the community than they are with making sure that they get theirs.
But if those folks are 'flabbergasted' at the thought, then on second thought, maybe it would be wiser to simply cancel the whole thing and spend the money needed to stage it directly on rebuilding and resettlement. Then see if next year they are happy with almost all of their profits.