Seeking to reverse a perceived decline in quality, Jefferson Parish has cited several Carnival krewes for violating a parade ordinance, mostly for unmasked riders, although one krewe was fined because the king allegedly smoked a marijuana cigarette and another rider tossed vomit-soaked beads to the crowd. Some krewe captains said the crackdown is sapping the fun from the Mardi Gras spectacle and could make it harder to attract and retain members, accelerating any drop-off in parade quality. But a spokesman for the Krewe of Zeus, which was not cited, countered that enforcing the rules simply protects the traditions of Carnival.
The Krewe of Atlas was fined a total of $600 for the alleged marijuana and vomit-covered bead incidents but is challenging its citations, captain Dan Murray said. “Our king said he has never smoked marijuana in his life and is going to take a drug test to prove it,” Murray said. “If they had any evidence that someone was doing that on a float, it seems like they would have pulled him off and arrested him.”
Murray said he plans to meet Wednesday with Sean Burke, director of the parish’s Citizens Affairs Department that oversees parades, to discuss the parish’s evidence, which the citation indicates includes photographs and statements from parish observers along the Metairie parade route. Burke told Murray he witnessed a strand of beads covered with vomit being tossed from a float during Atlas’ Feb. 10 parade, Murray said.
Parish President John Young’s administration would not release a list of the citations or say how many krewes were fined without a public records request, which typically takes a few days to process. But based on his conversations with other krewe captains, Murray said about five krewes, primarily on the east bank, were cited, mostly for unmasked riders, with fines set at $100 for every 20 riders in violation.
The citations were issued after Parish Council member Cynthia Lee-Sheng asked the Young administration why stepped-up efforts to enforce the parade ordinance during Carnival 2012 had yet to result in a single citation almost three months after Fat Tuesday. “The perception is that Carnival has declined in Jefferson Parish. Some people tell me it’s a joke and they don’t even go anymore,” said Lee-Sheng, whose district includes the Metairie parade route. “The first step toward turning that around is making sure that people who are granted parade permits follow the rules.” All Jefferson Parish krewes had mandatory meetings with parish officials to notify them that the parade ordinance would be more strictly enforced this year, Lee-Sheng said.
The Krewe of Thor, which also parades in Metairie, was fined $300 for unmasked riders and $100 for a rider who took off his shirt, captain McKinley Cantrell said. “I just feel like fining us $400 for putting on a free $100,000 parade with bands and floats is kind of a slap in the face,” Cantrell said. He said he will reluctantly pay the fines to avoid jeopardizing next year’s parade permit. “In a perfect world, everyone should be wearing a mask and a full costume. But if it’s hot and someone takes of their mask, I can’t stop that,” Cantrell said. “We’ve always been about safety, but now it’s all about little rules and regulations.”
The logistics officer for the Krewe of Zeus, which also parades in Metairie, supported the crackdown, saying the rules are necessary to safeguard the family friendly environment of the Mardi Gras season in Jefferson Parish. “If you want to have blow-up dolls and throw beers and condoms from your float, there’s a place to do that. It’s the French Quarter, not Jefferson Parish,” said the Zeus official, who said tradition prohibits him from being publicly identified.
Lee-Sheng said the parish has turned away new krewes seeking parade permits, yet another reason to ensure the ones who get a coveted permit follow the rules. “I’m surprised about the pushback I’m getting from some krewes,” she said. “They should be the ones fighting the hardest for the traditions of Carnival.”
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Paul Rioux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3785.