Beefs, brawls, butting heads ... however you slice it, folks were fightin' in '05



The year began with hizzoner and council members -- most notably Council President Eddie Sapir -- embroiled over a fiber-optic sewer system that Nagin championed and the council challenged, in a lawsuit that was later dismissed. More squabbling came during a battle over allowing a "boutique hotel" in the French Quarter. The rift illustrated the deeply back-asswards way in which the mayor and City Council tend to relate to each other: the council voted for the hotel and Nagin vetoed it, then added his own provisions to retool the plan. When Katrina hit, the two entities still had not mastered basic communication skills with each other, a factor that has since hindered decisions large and small. The rift du jour: trailer people vs. residents living near neighborhood parks. Will Nagin ever let council members see his hand before the dealing's done? Will the mayor's allies on the council, visibly weary of Nagin's bobbing and weaving, finally deliver that counter-punch to the ribs? Stay tuned.

This relationship has been frosty from the get-go, when Nagin jumped party lines to endorse Blanco's opponent, Republican Bobby Jindal, in the 2003 gubernatorial race. In April, when Nagin pitched several tax-break proposals to Blanco, the Guv was less than enthused. Then, when Nagin asked her for $12.4 million the state owed for municipal costs of maintaining Harrah's New Orleans Casino, Blanco responded with a polite but firm "no." Clouds parted in August, when the two worked together to keep New Orleans' Naval Support Activity base off the federal chopping block. As Nagin and Blanco hugged and high-fived, a tropical depression was forming in the Gulf. During "Katrina Week," Nagin and Blanco locked horns in their quests to shape public opinion about their handling of the crisis. "We are not bashing Nagin publicly (though we felt like it)," Blanco chief of staff Andy Kopplin complained in an email. Just before Blanco's special Legislative session, Nagin proposed a special downtown casino district. Blanco wasted no time shooting down that trial balloon. Although the two now claim they're working together, they have separate recovery committees and plans -- and, presumably, priorities.

We would love to be able to limit Tom Benson's battles to just Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who before the storm seemed to bear the brunt of Benson's capricious behavior during what we'll diplomatically call the "negotiations" to keep the Saints in New Orleans. But Hurricane Katrina seemed to hasten one storm after another with regard to Benson. During one stretch, he alienated just about everyone imaginable except maybe the mayor of San Antonio. Benson angered fans by insisting on playing a majority of the team's home games in Texas instead of Baton Rouge, clearly looking toward a non-New Orleans future; he fired Saints executive vice-president Arnold Fielkow for insisting that the Saints play in Baton Rouge, the one "truth to power" moment of the year in the organization; and he surely must have NFL bigwigs like Commissioner Paul Tagliabue wondering if it would be wise to let such a loose cannon relocate his team to San Antonio, Los Angeles or wherever. Regardless, Benson has recently tried to rehab his image. Is it too little, too late?

It was really sweet: School board members marked their January swearing-in with the mantra "It's about the children!" However, any higher consciousness they may have achieved soon dissolved when their honeymoon with golden-boy Superintendent Anthony Amato came to a grinding halt. Amid complaints he wasn't fixing the system's appalling finances (and was a lousy manager to boot), Amato left in similar fashion to that of his two predecessors, abruptly and with a nice severance package. Still, Amato's tenure brought academic progress to public schools. Alarmed at the unfamiliar specter of success, interim Deputy Superintendent Ora Watson immediately dismantled those programs. The board then voted to let an outside contractor take over the system's finances -- until Board President Torin Sanders refused to sign the contract, and other Board members voted to sue him. Post-Katrina, Sanders and Watson are inexplicably insisting on reopening public schools based on the dysfunctional old model the rest of the board (and everyone else) wants to purge. As charter schools become the order of the day, we recommend that board members revive their mantra -- or get out of the way.

Most of the time, Mardi Gras Indians are bosses and employees, parents and students, neighbors and congregants. A few days of the year, they're big chiefs, spy boys, wild men and high priestesses. Always, they're respected community members -- which is why this year's St. Joseph's Night was as insulting as it was unexpected. As they have every St. Joseph's night for more than 100 years, on March 19 the Indians were dancing and singing their way up to A.L. Davis Park when they say New Orleans cops disrupted their ritual with blaring sirens, speeding cruisers, foul language and rough treatment. The police said they were responding to a report of concealed weapons and safety concerns. The clash came to an emotional peak during a City Council meeting in July. There, "chief of chiefs" Allison "Tootie" Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas was urging the council to protect the tradition and culture of the Mardi Gras Indians from further police harassment when he collapsed, felled by a fatal heart attack. As many Indians' neighborhoods have since been devastated and members of the second-line community are scattered around the country, it's too early to gauge the impact of Montana's poignant death. Some gangs say they'll come back. We can only hope that if they do, everyone -- cop and civilian -- steps back for the big chief when he struts by.

When an announcement is made to the local Pat "The Funtrepreneur" Jolly email list, it is a sure thing that the message will reach a solid core of the New Orleans arts and bohemian community. It's the ultimate in insider information, but with a significant and sometimes vocal audiences. What initially seemed like an innocuous email from local artist, gallery and now R Bar owner Jonathan Ferrara turned into a curious (and a little silly) snub during Carnival. His regular R Bar update invited people to the Royal Street haunt to party with the SociŽtŽ de Ste. Anne annual parade on Mardi Gras. Ferrara's email claimed the Faubourg Marigny bar at 11 a.m. is the starting point for the Ste. Anne's parade -- a festive, yet organic and low-key alternative to Zulu and Rex that produces elaborate and outlandish costumes by its members, many of whom are artists. That claim angered a lot of St. Anne's members because the parade actually begins in Bywater -- the neighborhood downriver from Ferrara's bar -- following a house party on Clouet Street. The parade typically passes the R Bar around late-morning en route to Canal Street and then for a ceremony on the banks of the Mississippi River. This year, "it was pretty deliberate to not go by the R Bar," one Ste. Anne member says, "but the parade is not a hugely organized thing." Ferrara says he apologized for the mistake, and corrected his email as soon as he realized it was incorrect. He says he was never answered after his apology, adding, "There's no bad blood on my behalf. Plus, after all we've been through this year, does it even matter?" If anything, the little dust-up showed just how seriously we all take Carnival, something to consider for 2006.

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