Mardi Gras Wraps Up In New Orleans

Wednesday, February 21st 2007, 5:44 am
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Jeff Friedland couldn't disguise his frustration with the slow pace of post-Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. In fact, he chose to wear it on his sleeve.

The 57-year-old joined the celebrations Tuesday at the Mardi Gras carnival by donning a low-budget costume of a house painter's jumpsuit wrapped in red tape.

``Abysmal. Uncaring. Bordering on immoral,'' is how Friedland, 57, described more than 17 months of haggling with five different insurance companies and three mortgage companies over damage to his home and two rental properties he owns in New Orleans.

``No leadership from government. That's my biggest complaint,'' he said.

Many of the revelers who joined the French Quarter's famously bawdy celebration for the second Mardi Gras since Katrina vented their frustration and anger in a humorous way, donning homemade costumes with themes that were far more political than prurient.

A popular target for their sly jabs was Gov. Kathleen Blanco's grant program that offers eligible homeowners up to $150,000 in compensation to get back into their homes. Checks have been slow to come, say critics.

Allen Bender dressed as a housewife with a bathrobe and curlers in her hair and held a fake, oversized check for $150,000 signed by ``Goobernor K. Blanco.'' He was flanked by two friends wearing jackets that said ``LRA Prize Patrol,'' a reference to the storm-spawned Louisiana Recovery Authority.

Bender said his grant application was rejected because it concluded that his $70,000 flood insurance payment should have covered all the damage to his home. But Bender said he only got half of what he needed to rebuild.

``It's a hit this year,'' he said of his costume as other revelers snapped his photograph. ``Last year we dressed as insurance adjusters from hell.''

Even a tourist like Annie Clowes, 43, of Newburyport, Mass., found the political-themed costumes more amusing than the flesh-baring ones. Clowes said it's impossible to celebrate Fat Tuesday in New Orleans without thinking of Katrina.

``They didn't let it get them down. They still have Mardi Gras,'' she said.

The annual free-for-all party ended at midnight when police on foot or horseback _ followed by street sweepers _ marched down Bourbon Street declaring Carnival over.

Three people were shot and one man was stabbed to death in three incidents far from the revelry of Mardi Gras. Police Supt. Warren Riley said all three incidents remain under investigation but said he doubted any were related or had anything to do with the celebrations.

The crowds appeared larger than last year, when an estimated 700,000 people were in the city for the final weekend and Mardi Gras. The city's 30,000 hotel rooms were 95 percent occupied, according to Fred Sawyers, president of the Greater New Orleans Hotel & Lodging Association.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Ray Nagin rode a horse down St. Charles Avenue, urging tourists to spend money. ``We need the tax revenue bad,'' he said.

In addition to the political costumes, revelers' outfits ranged from the glamorous to the satirical. Five women dressed as NASA astronauts wearing diapers.

Harriet Robin, 65, and Jeff Reeder, 44, wore trash cans rendered obsolete by a new city trash removal program that requires square 90-gallon bins. Their old cans had ``For Sale'' signs on them.

``They spent millions of dollars on this contract and there was nothing wrong with the old system,'' Reeder said.

Maurice Trosclair, 45, dressed as one of the city's more frequent and famous visitors _ CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. He carried a fake CNN microphone and wore a mask that he made from a photograph of Cooper.

``New Orleans is coming back,'' he said. ``In spite of it all.''

Corinne Branigan, 40, wore a brown T-shirt with the slogan, ``New Orleans. Established 1718, Re-established 8-29-05.''

Last year's Mardi Gras seemed too soon, Branigan said. But this year everything felt just right.

``This is everything that's great about New Orleans rolled into three days,'' she said. ``Food, music _ we've got the best marching bands in the country. It's like a big neighborhood. Everything else is forgotten for the time being.''