By ALAN SMASON
Carnival, which ran longer than usual this year, has ended with a bang and a whimper. For the most part, it was run efficiently and was well-planned. The final days leading up to Fat Tuesday’s celebration were threatened with rain, but only one krewe, the Knights of Chaos, canceled its parade in Orleans Parish, partially due to impending inclement weather.
More than ever, meteorologists – not captains – dictated the routes and starting times for many of the Carnival parades. Sunday’s daytime parades of the Krewes of Okeanos, Mid-City and Thoth, consisted of floats and a handful of motorized vehicles only, guaranteeing that when a massive weather front deluged the area in late afternoon, most of the riders were off the floats and most of the floats were off the streets. Thursday night’s parades started an hour later when the weather forecasters informed the Knights of Babylon and ladies’ Krewe of Muses that a delay would allow them a mostly rain-free ride. Chaos officials canceled their parade not over concerns of the weather, but over logistical problems with starting their (Krewe of Momus) ball too late.
While there were no major shooting incidents to put a damper on the celebratory mood, there was an unfortunate hit and run drunk driving arrest late Friday night following the deaths of two bicyclists on Esplanade Avenue that put several other riders in the hospital, one of them in critical condition. When apprehended a short time later, the alleged driver blurted out the ironic fact that his father was a New Orleans Police Department officer. He was arrested and placed under a $500,000 bond.
Aside from that one tragic event, parade revelers and partying visitors and residents alike enjoyed a safe period leading up to and on Fat Tuesday. Carnival officials worked closely with the new administration of Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who showed she was ready to have a good time and mingle, but also so make certain that everyone kept a cautious eye on potential problems. City officials worked with the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Homeland Security, FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency along with the Louisiana State Troopers and other local law enforcement agencies like the NOPD, Jefferson Parish Sheriff and Orleans Parish Sheriff.
This is in marked contrast to the scene 40 years ago, when the Teamsters Union with the New Orleans Police Department and the City of New Orleans contentiously squared off over wages. At that time, the Carnival captains fronted by Rex Captain Brooke Duncan agreed not to parade in order that the city and its Carnival celebrations not be held hostage to threats of job walk-offs. Ernest “Dutch” Morial, the first African-American mayor of the city, weathered his first major test of authority as Carnival proponents weighed in on his side, helping to defeat the Teamsters Union and its agitators. Even then – sans parades – the people of New Orleans partied in the streets to pass a good time without major incidents.
When the Zulu parade arrived at Gallier Hall on Fat Tuesday, the lines between the city and the krewe were blurred slightly and history was forever changed. This is because City Councilman Jay Banks, a former Zulu king, saluted George Rainey, the 2019 Zulu king , one of a few Carnival proponents in 1993, who had helped institute the city’s annual Lundi Gras celebrations. Rainey’s granddaughter, a sophomore at LSU, reigned as the youngest Zulu queen in four decades and in her honor the LSU Tiger Band appeared for the first time in a Zulu parade. The significance of the Band from Tigerland appearing in a Zulu parade demonstrates another hurdle that has been crossed in race relations as the term “Fighting Tigers” was first applied to the Louisiana regiment that fought on the side of the Confederacy in the Civil War.
The new mayor handled her role well, catching parades on both sides of the river and using her position to instill in youngsters a love for Carnival while handling the difficult tasks of running the city at a time when resources are at a low ebb. She is off to a successful start on the first of her Mardi Gras seasons as mayor. Those responsible for keeping the streets safe did a great job too, despite being overworked and understaffed.
And a big shout out to us too. We did well ourselves.