The year in New Orleans began and ended with ordinances — in January, opponents of a proposed civic noise ordinance demonstrated outside City Hall before storming the doors and leading a brass band parade through the building into City Council chambers. In December, people were talking about Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell's proposed ordinance, scheduled to be taken up by council shortly after New Year's, which would ban smoking virtually everywhere in public in New Orleans.
In between, we had a rainy Mardi Gras, a very quiet hurricane season and a terrible New Orleans Saints season that may somehow result in a playoff berth.
Perhaps the year's strangest trend involved two high-profile public embalmings, both of which made international news. The late local resident Miriam Burbank bade mourners goodbye at the Charbonnet Funeral Home sitting at a table, wearing her favorite Saints gear, with a case of Busch beer and a bottle of Glenlivet at her side. Then there was socialite Mickey Easterling (pictured), who greeted visitors at her wake at the Saenger Theater with a feather boa, a cigarette holder and a diamond-studded pin that read "BITCH."
Here's a completely incomprehensive (but, hopefully, not incomprehensible) look at a few of the highlights (and lowlights) of 2014 in New Orleans:
"NEW ORLEANS IS NOT COSMOPOLITAN. THERE'S NO KALE HERE."
— Actor Tara Elders, quoted in a March New York Times story about artistic transplants in New Orleans. The story ("Experiencing New Orleans with Fresh Eyes and Ears") included other cringeworthy quotes ("So many of the cool places here are really rundown. And not because a stylist designed them that way") and inspired a brief run on kale jokes.
The number of guilty counts against former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who was charged with 21 counts of fraud and bribery. Nagin was found guilty in federal court in February and reported to federal prison in Texas in September to begin serving a 10-year sentence.
Ever heard of it? Neither had most people, until State Sen. Elbert Guillory brought up the "sport" in a discussion of tightening Louisiana's cockfighting laws. The Advocate reported Guillory's explanation: "Just as dueling is a blood sport, two men fighting each other with swords is a blood sport that is illegal. Similarly, two men with boxing gloves on can box each other as a sport that is legal. This is the same distinction between chicken boxing and cockfighting." The Daily Show with Jon Stewart sent down correspondent Al Madrigal to talk with Guillory, who told him, "I'm not a fan of cockfighting, but I love to go and watch some chicken boxing."
New Orleans lost two of its most seasoned TV newsmen when WDSU's Norman Robinson and WWL's Dennis Woltering both stepped down in May.
Get used to hearing a lot about New Orleans' 300th birthday, which arrives in 2018 and coincides with the end of Mayor Mitch Landrieu's second term in office. In January, Landrieu and leaders from Orleans and surrounding parishes announced construction of the new Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, a project budgeted at $828 million that's scheduled to be done in May 2018.
Meanwhile, the Tricentennial Consortium — a group comprised mostly of people in the tourism and hospitality industries — announced plans (a "holistic vision") for a remaking of the waterfront at the foot of Canal Street, stretching up to and including the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Those plans were dealt a severe setback in April when the city could not come to terms with Gatehouse Capital, the development group that had been selected to redevelop the World Trade Center site and the building that is its centerpiece. More tricentennial trouble came in May, when the city lost out to Minneapolis when it came to hosting Super Bowl LII in 2018.
This month, Landrieu announced the formation of a super-committee to coordinate the city's tricentennial activities, with a series of eight subcommittees under it. They now have three years to plan a major party.
In the history of the satirical Krewe du Vieux, no one theme may have made as much of an impact as the Krewe of SPANK did this year with "Dizneylandrieu." "Mitchey Mayor" rode the float in front of a St. Louis Cathedral that looked like Cinderella's castle, while marching krewe members wore plastic ears identifying them as "Mitchkateers."
The throws were Disney-style brochures for "Mitchey Mayor's Gentrified Kingdom," and featured various park regions that included "Hipsterland," "Jacked-Up Square" and "Bourbon Street, U.S.A." Among the attractions: "200,000,000 Gallons Under the Sea," "The Riverfront Monorail" and "A Streetcar Named Out of Service."
It was a brilliant, biting take on New Orleans' gentrification — and a reminder that Mardi Gras krewes can still deliver powerful satire.
Developments in the Louisiana same-sex marriage movement this year started with Mayor Mitch Landrieu's quiet endorsement of the practice in June (he previously had been in favor of civil unions). After a string of federal court victories, a Sept. 3 decision by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman upheld the state's ban on same-sex marriage. Conservatives praised the decision, while gay marriage advocates held a rally in Jackson Square. On Jan. 9, 2015, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on same-sex marriage, which could legalize the practice not only in Louisiana, but also in Texas and Mississippi.
DR. NORMAN FRANCIS
The president of Xavier University announced his intention to step down in 2015 after 46 years of leadership. Francis, the longest-tenured university president in the nation, was one of the students who integrated Loyola University School of Law and later served as president of the United Negro College Fund. He also has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
SEPTEMBER WAS THE CRUELEST MONTH
... for high-profile lawbreakers. Former city tech chief Greg Meffert was sentenced to 30 months in prison, while former City Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt finally reported to jail the same month — as did former Mayor Ray Nagin.
The French Quarter has seen few human traffic jams as large as the one created when the Foo Fighters played a "surprise" show (that was hardly a surprise) with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in May. Arcade Fire's Win Butler sat in as well, and hundreds of fans crammed St. Peter Street outside Pres Hall hoping to get a listen.
"SOUTHERN LOUISIANA CAN FINALLY SLEEP WITH BOTH EYES CLOSED."
— Tom Ziller of SBNation.com, on Pierre the Pelican's February makeover. The New Orleans Pelicans mascot was widely (and accurately) criticized as terrifying when it debuted in 2013, so the team had some fun with the replacement mascot, announcing that Pierre had broken his beak on the court and would require reconstructive surgery — even tweeting a photo of a bandaged Pierre at Ochsner Medical Center. The new Pierre was a lot less frightening — and a lot less distinctive.
In June, Gambit's reporting partner Uptown Messenger broke the news that the city had issued an official "Certificate of Recognition" and welcome letter to Operation Save America, an anti-abortion group that spent its time in New Orleans disrupting a church service and picketing doctors' houses. "This proclamation was issued in error," the city said later.
THE BYWATER ABIDES
The gentrification/hipsterification (take your choice) of the neighborhood continued apace. Crescent Park opened in February, offering riverfront recreation, while restaurants and shops continued to fill in the area, including the new Oxalis and Garage Pizza. Just across the railroad tracks at the Bywater edge of the Faubourg Marigny, St. Claude Avenue continued to develop as the city's theater corridor (The New Movement comedy theater relocated there in the fall) and a raft of new restaurants opened on the avenue, including Kebab, Red's Chinese and Sneaky Pickle (and, perhaps by the time you read this, the long-delayed Junction). Other Marigny arrivals included Horn's, The Franklin and Bao & Noodle.
"WE HAVE TURNED THIS DEPARTMENT AROUND."
Ronal Serpas stepped down as New Orleans Police Superintendent after four years in the job, taking a position at Loyola University's Department of Criminal Justice. Serpas touted statistics showing murder was down and said his staff had "turned this department around." But his legacy may be the damning November report released by Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux, which found five detectives in the NOPD's sex crimes and child abuse unit had failed to investigate cases, misclassified others or simply ignored them completely; of nearly 1,300 calls placed to the department, 65 percent were labled "miscellaneous," with no ongoing documentation or report.
Also known as the "Unsafe Abortion Prevention Act," House Bill 388, intro-duced by State Rep. Katrina Jackson (a Democrat) sailed through both the House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal in June. Its provisions include a stipulation that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges within 30 miles of the clinic where the procedure is performed. Texas saw more than a dozen clinics close during the first year a similar law was in effect. With this law, the anti-abortion group Americans United For Life (AUL) declared Louisiana the most "pro-life" state in the U.S. in its 2014 report. "Louisiana has enacted a measure banning all abortions once Roe v. Wade is overturned," AUL noted. "While the ban includes an exception for life endangerment, there is no exception for rape or incest."
"OH, LORD, NO."
— Outgoing U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu to Politico Dec. 10, when asked if she intended to run for office again. She quickly amended her statement to say she hadn't entirely ruled out running for the Louisiana governorship or Senate again.
NEW ORLEANS MINUTEMEN
During one of several spates of violent crime this year in the French Quarter, an organization called French Quarter Minutemen was announced by organizer Aaron Jordan. Jordan proposed a militia of armed volunteers walking the Vieux Carre, escorting service workers to and from work, and the idea incited a lot of talk pro and con. But the idea never got much farther than a Facebook page and a meeting with New Orleans Police Department officials; Jordan was arrested on an unrelated stalking charge.
ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE
Pouring cold water over your head in the middle of a Louisiana summer doesn't sound like a sacrifice, but the practice raised more than $100 million this summer to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the disease affecting former New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason. People around the world did the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money to fight ALS, and in an August statement the ALS Foundation said it had raised $100.9 million in one month, compared to $2.8 million in the same time period one year ago.
Gambit was pretty pleased in May when it got an exclusive interview with former Sex Pistol John Lydon about his turn as King Herod in an arena-rock staging of Jesus Christ Superstar that was opening in New Orleans before going on a world tour. But 90 minutes before the paper went to press, the producers abruptly canceled the whole thing, leaving the actors and crew high and dry and Gambit without a cover story. What to do? We made some cosmetic changes to the cover and sent it to the printer, secure in the knowledge that the Lydon interview was now a true exclusive, since there was no show.
PORTMANTEAUS OF THE YEAR
"FESTSPLAINING": Offering advice on local customs to tourists during Jazz Fest and other big events. (The advice doesn't have to be correct — and often isn't.)
"EBOLANOIA": A portmanteau of "Ebola" and "paranoia," as demonstrated by state officials who asked health workers who traveled to Ebola-stricken nations not to come to the November meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in New Orleans, where Ebola was going to be discussed.
"PREVITALIZATION": Imagining how an area could be gentri — uh, economically enhanced, as seen in a press release this year: "Better Block is a 'previtalization' project to playfully imagine how we can enhance our underinvested commercial corridors. This Friday night, stop by to experience pop-up food vendors, temporary bike lanes, murals, play areas for children, live music, and an art installation in the historic and soon-to-be-renovated Dew Drop Inn."
The former New Orleans Saint, five-time Pro Bowl NFL standout and TV football analyst has been in a Los Angeles County jail for nine months after being charged with drugging and raping two women in California. He has been accused of the same thing in Arizona, Nevada and Louisiana, and a judge has denied bail in the California case. On Dec. 12, Sharper was indicted by an Orleans Parish grand jury on two counts of aggravated rape and one count of simple rape — and the feds indicted him on drug distribution charges the same day. According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Sharper's next court date there is Jan. 5, 2015.
Political consultant Cheron Brylski, in a widely circulated email discussing Mayor Mitch Landrieu's way of getting things done
"Guidry full of shit"
New Orleans City Council District A candidate Drew Ward on Twitter, referring to incumbent opponent Susan Guidry
"Send her old ass to the Retirement home!"
Musician Glen David Andrews on Twitter, expressing his distaste for longtime New Orleans City Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson
The diamond pin fastened to the lapel of socialite Mickey Easterling's outfit at her lavish public memorial service