lawyer David Belfield has waged numerous legal battles, but none
closer to his heart than the one hes about to fight: a lawsuit to
stop his beloved krewe, the Zulu Social and Pleasure Club, from
parading in Mardi Gras this year.
Im a fanatic
about Mardi Gras, Belfield, a former king of the Zulu Club krewe,
said from his temporary home in Atlanta, where he remains an
Ive grown up with
Mardi Gras, he said. My 81-year-old mother still makes costumes. No
matter where Ive been, Ive always come home for Mardi Gras. But
this year, it isnt right to be throwing this big parade and big
celebration when so many of our people are still
African-American krewe that has become one of the largest and most
popular of the major parade groups in the annual Fat Tuesday
celebration, is considered a key to the events success in the
But the krewe,
like the city, remains divided over what -- if any -- kind of Mardi
Gras celebration would be appropriate this year.
that a well-televised party in the midst of a devastated city sends
the wrong message to Congress and Americans whose financial support
is still needed. Officials and business leaders counter that Mardi
Gras will provide a much-needed shot in the arm to the citys
economy and its tourism trade.
-- filed on technical grounds that Zulu club members didnt receive
adequate notice of a meeting in which a vote was taken to
participate -- asks civil court judge Yada McGee to enjoin the
krewe from marching.
A hearing on the
petition is set for Jan. 23.
ruling adds one more bit of uncertainty to the questions and
concerns that travel agents, tour operators and hoteliers are
expressing as they contemplate bringing tens of thousands of
tourists to the city in two months time.
We are getting a
lot of calls and e-mail messages from travel agents every day, said
Kim Priez, vice president of tourism for the New Orleans Convention
and Visitors Bureau. The CVB has become a clearing house for
information about the citys tourism rebuilding process.
The travel agents
want to know what is open and how does it look. Is it safe? All of
them have questions, and we have a team of people answering over
and over, all day long, Yes, we will be ready, Priez
The trouble is
even our travel agents are still seeing the rebroadcast of old
images on television of water in the streets, she said. There are
not enough marketing dollars in the world to counter those kinds of
hotel rooms in the city already have been reopened and many more
are expected to be ready in January, officials say, meaning the
city will be ready to accommodate more than 20,000 guests a day.
Restaurants continue to reopen almost daily, although business
leaders say that finding enough workers remains a serious
City and state
officials have said repeatedly that police and other public
assistance workers will be sufficient to support Mardi Gras crowd
control, and the citys legendary Ash Wednesday clean-up
advocates like Priez -- who herself is living in temporary housing
just outside of New Orleans -- acknowledge that the questions are
leaving a hard-to-shake uncertainty about what to expect when the
city launches its official Mardi Gras season later this month,
culminating in eight days of pre-Lenten celebrations at the end of
We have a new ad
campaign coming out called Before and After that we hope will help
answer a lot of these questions, Priez said.
But she said most
of the marketing dollars to promote this years Mardi Gras will be
focused on regional drive-in tourism. Even international bookings
are expected to exceed domestic travel to the city from other areas
of the U.S., she said.
The Mardi Gras
celebration that had been planned before Hurricane Katrina, which
resulted in the deaths of more than 1,200 people in Louisiana and
the rest of the Gulf Coast, was to have been one of the largest in
history, marking the 150th anniversary of the celebrations. Now it
seems destined to be one of the smallest.
Still, city and
state officials have given their blessing and encouragement to this
years scaled-back Mardi Gras -- eight days instead of the
Even the smaller
celebration is expected to bring in millions of dollars of crucial
Some people in
tourism are suggesting they may market this as the first
post-Katrina effort to return to normal, said Arthur Hardy, who for
30 years has published the definitive -- and only -- official guide
to the New Orleans Mardi Gras.
Being in Mardi
Gras may be like being in Times Square on the first New Years Eve
after 9/11, he said. It could well be historic.
for a boycott
But the very idea
of throwing a party in the heart of a city surrounded by the grim
devastation of Katrina has left many evacuees with a bitter taste
in their mouths.
who has been involved for years in marketing Mardi Gras for clients
and in organizing major balls and celebrations, is promoting a
Mardi Gras boycott from her temporary home in Atlanta.
The city is
seeking a corporate sponsor to kick in $2 million to support the
event, she said. But any potential sponsor ought to think long and
hard about a black boycott that could extend to their company as
also supports Simms efforts, says holding the event in areas of the
city that went virtually untouched reemphasizes insensitive social
and racial divisions that were exposed by the storm, especially
when nearby areas still look like they were hit by nuclear bombs, he said.
The city canceled
Mardi Gras in 1979 when 1,200 police officers went on strike, said
Here weve opened
up 1,200 graves, and that should be sufficient reason to
concentrate on helping the people who have lost family and their
homes, not on having a big drunken party. When people can come home
again, then we can celebrate Mardi Gras.
A vote to
from parading would not stop the event, Belfield said. But it
would, he insists, strike a blow for social justice in a city where
many of the service workers who make Mardi Gras happen are without
homes and without much government assistance.
How are they
going to have enough people to handle the tourists who come?
Belfield asked. The restaurants and hotels cant find workers right
now. The busboys are in Houston; the hotel maids are in
Jr., president of the Zulu Club, said city officials assured him
that Mardi Gras will come together as expected, and they have
lobbied his group and other krewes to participate in
He said 187
members of the 600-member club managed to attend a meeting on
whether to stage their parade, and they vote unanimously to go
I cant talk too
much about the lawsuit because it is before the court, Hamilton
said. We will see what the judge has to say.
But, he added: We
look at Mardi Gras as a way of healing, a way of helping our city
economically. And we feel that Mardi Gras should go on, because
without it, our city might not come back.
staging a limited Mardi Gras to jump-start the citys economic
recovery insist that Belfield, Simms and others opposed to Mardi
Gras celebrations in the city constitute only a vocal
But they are not
dismissing the concerns out of hand.
Mardi Gras would
be seriously diminished if Zulu did not parade, said Hardy. They
are just too important. I think everyone feels that way.
But, he added, I
think staging Mardi Gras will show the world we are very resilient
reporter Dan Luzadder, send e-mail to[email protected].
origins of New Orleans krewes
The term krewe
dates to the mid-19th century. It was coined by Comus, the mens
organization that was formed in New Orleans during that era to
bring a more orderly celebration to Mardi Gras and to Carnival, the
festive pre-Lenten celebrations that anticipate Fat
from the original secret societies that first developed street
masking, and later emerged as public clubs, like Zulu, that
organize parades and the private balls and extravaganzas that make
up Mardi Gras in New Orleans.