Istanbul and the Inquisition

Everybody interested must know at least the outlines of the Cafe Istanbul ABO hearing last Tuesday. Deferred to November 17th pending a “deal.”

It turned into a seeing instead of a hearing. We came in, milled about, said hello to friends and allies, craned our necks to see who was in the chamber, took our seats, waited for the director to say “action.” He never did.

“We are on the cusp of an arrangement which will satisfy everybody,” says Dan McNamara, the shadowy Inquisitor of the ABOs. What was really happening? Facts are sparse. I am going to have to bring some imagination to connecting these dots.

Dozens of people showed up in support of Istanbul, meaning, ipso facto, against Faubourg Marigny “Improvement” Association, the Iago villain of the piece, and the Dark Lord of city government villains, Dan McNamara, ABO “staff,” or prosecutor, whose duties include making sure that no convicted felon can make a living in the bar or restaurant business, and since he can’t get a regular job, he has to sell some crack to survive. Good choices, Louisiana. When tyrannical puritans were less PC, we would have just said Inquisitor. I had solid previous indications that McNamara was acting in alliance with and advising FMIA in a way that would have been way outside of acceptable for any other Assistant City Attorney. Does McNamara’s different title, Deputy City Attorney, and the fact that he is said to be a direct mayoral appointee, mean that he has his own rule book? I think so.

The support crowd included Ethan Ellestad, Exec Direc of MaCCNO, the music and entertainment support group, who was scheduled to be a sworn witness. Prez Kabacoff, who owns the Healing Center where Istanbul is located, and lots of other buildings (see Treme for some of the details) was there for the defense. Jason Williams, President of City Council, was in the chamber, in support of Istanbul’s cause. If he did not know her before, McNamara would have quickly picked up that Istanbul’s lawyer was not just a lease-proofreading pushover who had had six minutes to learn the case.

A lot of people in the city government, both elected and appointed, like Cafe Istanbul. Had any of them had a quiet word with one of the commissioners? Nothing overt, of course. A discreet brandy in the club one evening . . . .

Probably not. Brandy is not that popular here. Maybe a sipping glass of Blanton’s.

Or which one of them will be next Mayor, when Landrieu terms out? Do you really want to piss off Jason Williams? Especially for no benefit, when the other team comes up bogus?

Commissioner Robert Jenkins said he would take the case in hand to make sure there was a satisfactory arrangement. That probably makes him Tessio at the funeral scene.

I checked around with people who would have to know what the deal was, because they would be in the deal.

“What’s the deal?” I asked subtly.

“I don’t know. Haven’t made any.”

Sounds like a hell of a deal.

When I start connecting dots here, don’t get too cynical. My reconstruction is no more fictional than McNamara’s “deal.”

I think our Alcohol Inquisitor took a look at the support crowd, and another at the questionable little clump of accusers, neighborhood cranks who had burnt out any credibility they may once have had.

“I’m in the wrong battle here. Let’s smother this quietly.” That is the English translation. McNamara’s inner reflections are probably in Sith.

Wandering out onto the plaza in front of City Hall, what did I see but Lisa Suarez herself, president of FMIA and principal wooden spoon of this mess, looking quite chirpy. She flashed me a meaningful grin. I read two messages into it: one, that she recognized who I was, had my number, and would get my ass one of these days. And two, she was okay with her day’s work. She had kicked the hornet’s nest, had plucky little Lisa. She had not formally lost. She could pretend that she had not been kicked way out into the tall grass. She had directed a drama. People had taken off from work or whatever they wanted to do to come to the Chamber for her dramatic scene. She imagined people would see her as a formidable gadfly, a spunky watchdog, not just a pain in the butt. Co-conspirators came over for whispered confabs with other of the Maronite cabal. Were they kissing each other’s rings, or did I imagine that?

Reading expressions through my crystal ball, I saw overage teenage schoolyard bullies, silly and cruel, smug in their bit of fun. Maybe they are trying to sell Coppola a new series, The Godmothers.

She may have to sell the result to FMIA, but they have clucked along behind her shenanigans so far, except for the few who became embarrassed and resigned the board or quit the club.

She would do best to agree any deal and avoid the full hearing. It would come out that FMIA never managed its side of the misbegotten Good Neighbor Agreement or CBA (Community Benefit Agreement) that the residents’ club is the other party to. The city used to like to push these dozy agreements to get the city out of basic responsibilities it was failing to handle. Council would deputize a “neighborhood association” to be the other side of a contract with a bar or nightclub, like a hall monitor to make sure the bar behaved like a good little fellow.

These arrangements should all be binned. A lot of our neighborhood associations are no such thing. They are private advocacy groups who sometimes get themselves a 501(c)3 tax status, and think that makes them a local office of the FBI. Sooner or later, somebody with a put-down agenda and twisted conscience,

Dress’d in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d –

gets their hands on the wheel, and all pretense of neighborhood democracy is gone. You have the intentions, intelligence and cartoon shotgun of Elmer Fudd, with a little bit of the craftiness of Bugs Bunny. When you see the officers of FMIA in a huddle, think Looney Tunes.

The CBA between FMIA and Istanbul said that in case of a problem, the responsible person in FMIA was to have meetings with Istanbul’s management to try to sort it out. If after strenuous endeavors they could not come to a satisfactory result, both parties were to submit to arbitration, which the neighborhood club was to arrange.

FMIA arranged nothing that you could seriously call a meeting. Not even one, let alone a series. And no proposal of arbitration, of course. My guess – all speculation of course, and isn’t our Little Caesar of Marigny just such an honorable man?  – the present “officers” of FMIA did not know how to conduct a meeting with people they could not pull into their little self-referential world. Successful negotiation demands seeking rapport with some skill, not confrontation, friction and victory or retreat. I suggest that Ms Suarez, this year’s brief authority, is reflexively pugnacious, unimaginative and ineffective in this arena. Chuck Perkins and Soleyman Aydin are outside of her comfort zone. That little part inside of us that we don’t admit to was afraid.

The complaints are not about the shows or what happens inside the gaff. Neighbors complain about the audience going back to their cars after shows, or waiting for them to start, not things that can be directly controlled. The complainers were a ramshackle few who had managed their communication with the company no better than FMIA had.,

So what could Ms Lisa do? She had been lashing out and criticizing Cafe Istanbul in her newsletters for over a year, without reaching out appropriately to develop a relationship based on the CBA. If she was personally timorous, she could have delegated the task, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. I think she needed to show a tough front; if her witnesses would not be convincing, but she wanted to land the big fish – cut to the last paragraph of the CBA, the shotgun option, which says in scintillating prose:

Notwithstanding paragraphs 1 and 2 above, if there are five (5) or more documented violations of paragraphs 5, 7, 11 or 12 . . . within any 90 day period the requirement for arbitration . . . shall be waived and the FMIA shall be authorized to immediately pursue any remedy available under law . . . .

I suggest to you, members of my imaginary jury, that the FMIA cabal set out intentionally to create a dossier of five (5) documented violations, so they could get on stage with the ABO board or a lawsuit or some bit of drama in which Miz Lisa could stand in a spotlight, without ever having to make eye contact with Chuck Perkins or Soleyman Aydin.

Crafty, these residentialist champions of the Silent Night, aren’t they? Like Elmer Fudd working his carrot patch..

The investigating hero was director Matt del Vecchio. He had to stretch things a bit, like using Mardi Gras photos even though Mardi Gras is an exception to everything, and other meaningless stuff.

It must be just chance, don’t you think? None of the old personal or even systemic, you know what I mean? Oh, dear us, no. But somehow, don’t know how it could happen: every face in his pictures of violation is Black and every complainer is White. That is not characteristic of Cafe Istanbul, the most eclectic venue in town. Just bad luck, I guess. I was there for the Spotlight show last week. The audience was about 90 per cent White, despite the fact that a featured guest was Little Freddie King, a celebrated blues man. My guess: that is probably the majority of Istanbul audiences.

One of the complainers told me that noise or decibels have no color. That is, of course, BS. This is not the place for too much sociology, but we all know that the sickening history of slavery, segregation and white supremacy preserved and generated separate cultures, still very noticeable in some dialects and in musical and celebratory cultures. They sound different. They hit cruise at different volumes. And before one of you mental wizards decides to call me racist, I live in a mixed pre-gentrification neighborhood with every kind of music and every kind of laughter and some kinds of crying, and I like ’em all.

So my hypothesis is, FMIA’s “evidence” is actually evidence of irresponsible behavior, showing beyond a shadow that the current FMIA residentialist club was incapable of managing the procedures the organization of that name had agreed to. The reason I say it like that is – they change. FMIA under Lisa Suarez, making coalitions, chasing her obsessions, especially the Size Matters aberration, launching doomed attacks and lawsuits, declaring passionate hatreds and vendettas – is nothing like the more serious group it was under some previous presidents.

Consider the environment. Marigny is post-gentrification White Space. The solid citizens are not racist, oh no, heaven forbid. They would welcome African American members, if they could find any. They would have no problem relating to their Black members, one on one. But they have lost their group memory of Black laughter, of Black groups walking and talking on their muffled night streets. They don’t become interested or curious; they become afraid. But few like to say they are afraid, so they tell each other and us that they have been awakened, they are angry, their Quality of Life has been afflicted. I hear: their space has been invaded. They are afraid of the culture of the majority of New Orleans.

Most bars, clubs, restaurants and theaters in the U.S. are businesses, operating in the capitalist sector of our economy. They need stability. Residential clubs, “neighborhood associations,” are easy prey for the socially ambitious of a certain caste. All the CBAs should be revoked, so the entertainment businesses can work to the rule of law, like other businesses. City Council is probably not a suitable agreement partner either. District C has steady hands on the wheel now, this term – Nadine Ramsey and her capable team. In the last council, the Clarkson comedy show, C’s member was Kristin Palmer – an interesting character, but she collaborated with and advised the residentialist groups, showed bias openly toward VCPORA in Council. And people still roll their eyes at the browbeating, barking, threatening arrogance of her assistant Nicole Webre. Just a few thousand votes the wrong way, and District C might have been afflicted with four years of Jackie Clarkson.

I don’t know what Café Istanbul’s lawyer was going to do, but I would bet a cheap kebab that it included embarrassing the accusers for intention to commit injustice, bumbling foolishness, ignoring procedure, and causing acute embarrassment for Procurator McNamara by fooling him into allying himself with a clump of tinpots.

If they wanted my advice, which they don’t, I would say: City Attorney McNamara and Alcohol Control Commissioner Robert Jenkins should put together any anodyne formula of words that brings the Istanbul case to a quiet close. McNamara should be more careful who he partners with in his persecutions. Probably vain to wish that he would restrain the crippling punishments he lays on the vulnerable, which put people out of work and disproportionately victimize African American owned businesses. But you never know – maybe one fine day some old fashioned stuff like compassion will sneak up on him, and he will get it..

FMIA might want to withdraw for a bit to lick wounds, re-set priorities, drop ridiculous lawsuits and change officers.

Café Istanbul should annul its agreement with the trouble-stirring club that attacked it within 15 seconds of the end of this case.

In case you wonder: why does NOLAscape care? The residential groups are only people who really should get a life, coming together for group tsk tsk sessions., aren’t they? Some are not. They have morphed, like a wayward restaurant.

Part of it is just primate zoology.

Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d—
His glassy essence—like an angry ape
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep; who, with our spleens,
Would all themselves laugh mortal.

But an important part is that our attempt to contribute to supporting people who are trying to create something, whether it is writing a song, painting a picture, building apartments on the riverside, opening a new bar or restaurant, from the smallest to the biggest, is to keep the magnifying glass and a dose of mockery on the people and groups that put down, obstruct and  denigrate, especially when the message is built on lies or imaginary history, delivered in the pompous manner of entitlement. That puts us on the case of the people-like-us tribalism, the NIMBY reflex, the stultifying pressure to conform. Some of our former neighborhood associations have morphed into anti-democratic obsessive advocates for narrow causes. We like to help them toward the banana peel, then keep them down.

Next on New Orleans’ residentialist plague: Let’s Revisit VCPORA/FQC. Our purpose will be: kick them while they are down, and the piranhas attacking Via Latrobe expand into violating the environment as well as the future. But first we have to look at another school of piranha fish, Neighbors First for Bywater and the civic and environmental damage it is trying to do.

Bob Freilich October 2015

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Let’s Hear It for LaToya

I’m going soft. Must be succumbing to seductive Autumn weather. This is about a good thing from City Council. NOLAscape in warm and cuddly mode. (Don’t get used to it.)

Being politically suspicious is just playing it safe in New Orleans. Municipal politics is one of the more respectable routes to jail, and I have been specializing in some specimens of urban pest who have managed to avoid the custodial option so far. But when the worst of our citizen pains get out of the way, our Council Members can surprise me.

Two weeks ago, a lot of people went to City Council to help defeat an amendment proposed by Council Veep Stacy Head adding thirteen sterile words to an earlier amendment to the CZO proposed by Nadine Ramsey, already cleared by CPC and first-phase passed by Council. It was presented as an administration bill introduced by Ms Head, but I, cynically and without evidence, do not believe that. I suspect that it was a Head or Head/Guidry piece that they got somebody on the Landrieu side of City Hall’s second floor to initial, and its intention was to be useless while throwing a limp little symbolic bone to the insufferable French Quarter gangs that Guidry and Head keep supporting through thick and thin – now very thin.

Head and Guidry made some plucky but disjointed efforts to explain the purpose of the meaningless addition to Ramsey’s amendment, but nobody was convinced. Everyone who paid attention favored the simple, clear version and as several legislators and lawyers pointed out, mixing operational code in zoning regulation just is not halal.

For us the big feature of the day was that VCPORA/FQC, virulent opponents of CM Ramsey’s restaurant amendments and the most committed supporters of the thirteen empty words, had been exposed. Outed. They had Snowdened themselves. The leaked Brylskimail meeting memo showed in black and white – or should I say Black and White – that the slimy behavior that we always knew was their way, was now beyond doubt.. They were thoroughly disgraced, and looked it. Brylski’s memo shone a Klieg light on racially divisive politics by intent; on using any means available and any issue to discredit CM Nadine Ramsey and other Council members; on their choosing the option of trying to use the civil courts to undermine legislation instead of pleading their case to influence it.

The Underminers had been brave enough to come to the Council, but not brave enough to go to the lectern, look the Council Members in the eye and apologize or promise to reform.

This column will be doing what we can to keep them in the penalty box forever, or until they either disband or are so thoroughly rehabilitated that they can be trusted among decent people. But don’t hold your breath for a clean solution; our substantial population of superficially respectable, anti-creative, immoral residentialists need somewhere to go. VCPORA/FQC is their day care center. They are more likely to just hunker down until they reckon that short attention spans have made it safe to come out. Until then, and then, if you permit your city council or state officials to listen to these people, it’s on you. You have the option to say what they have always said: No!

But that’s not what this article is about. That was just to cheer you up.

I went to City Hall early that day, just in case somebody changed the schedule. Something unusual was going on. Discussions were being translated into and out of Spanish. LaToya Cantrell addressed the audience in English, stopping while translators accurately translated for Spanish speakers. One African woman (I hope I get her name right) Rosamine Kimisanga, brilliantly dressed and stunning in appearance, addressed Council and especially CM Cantrell in Spanish, expressing gratitude with evident emotion. Then, when one of the translators said he would paraphrase, she said no need, and spoke in perfect English with a charming accent. Then, just in case, she repeated it in French. And a bit later, CM James Gray revealed that she was also his niece, and asked her to repeat it in the language of Benin. So my socks were knocked off, and something good was going on. But what?

I watched the video later. LaToya Cantrell had introduced measures to make New Orleans a more welcoming city. Today’s main effort was announcing new translation services for 911, 311 and help with City Hall procedures – business licenses, etc – in French, Spanish, Vietnamese and up to 15 other languages. Representatives of immigrant communities were expressing pleasure and gratitude for this assistance with overcoming some of the challenges they encounter in the process of trying to make New Orleans and the United States their real home, not just a place they stay in to not be somewhere else. So some sand kicked in the face of Trump and other unsavory Nativists: we welcome immigrants, and not only engineers from Germany or surgeons from India. All kinds of people, and Cantrell is enacting measures to help them do whatever they have to do to succeed: fill in forms, call the police, communicate with anyone in City Hall.

It was as good as it gets in the Council chamber. Before the vote, all the other Council Members wanted their names added to LaToya’s as co-sponsors and the mood in the room was like we had just rescued Christmas from the Grinch.

Watch the video, (starts at 1:23:00) and send a Thank You note to LaToya Cantrell.

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Emailgate, NOLA Style

Our City Council did us proud Thursday afternoon. Isn’t that fun to say? We don’t get to do it a lot. I feel like a Civic Booster. I could be in danger of being satirized in a Sinclair Lewis novel.

It was also about as much fun as you can have in City Hall under the stern gaze of Stacy Head in full Madame Vice President mode.

Background: CM Nadine Ramsey of District C sponsored several amendments to the CZO to clean up existing and even recent restaurant regulation, for simplicity, clarity, protection from selective enforcement and greater ease of compliance and appropriate enforcement. They were first posted in April, entered formally into the record in May. Pretty simple stuff, good law writing. They should have been passed calmly with the CZO. Instead, the hyperactive reflexes of the French Quarter sufferers of Stage 3 Residentialism went on Red Alert. Squawk! Every restaurant will become a bar and a liquor store. Squawk! The fragile French Quarter will collapse under the jackboots of rampaging drunks tumbling out of morphed restaurants that serve no food.

Ridiculous? Of course. But that has never stopped them before.

By yesterday the proximate issue had boiled down to a detail so insignificant, calling it a detail is unfair to real details. Council should not have to spend time on such stuff. The morning had been occupied by work to try to tackle at least a part of the huge and discriminatory Black unemployment here, sponsored by James Gray, attended by dozens of serious activists. Early afternoon, closed executive session to deal with the big-ticket lawsuits from the fire service and sheriffs department. Then, starting at 3.00 PM, this stuff, which, for my sins in a previous life, interests me.

The original ordinance had included the word “incidental,” messy and ambiguous. CM Ramsey and her team wrote an amendment to fix it. The FQ residential property cultists fought to keep it in. They advocate ambiguous law that enables litigation (see the Brylskimail for confirmation) but they lost that. The final fallback alternative was billed as an Administration amendment introduced by Stacy Head. My take: the Mayor doesn’t give a tinker’s one way or the other. Somebody, Stacy head or a VCPORAn, got it rubber stamped by the other side of the building. Shelly Landrieu spoke in favor on behalf of Garden District; that might make you think.

Head’s alternative amendment added “in accordance with Chapter 10 of the Code of the City of New Orleans” to the text.

That’s it.

That’s what she put in as a new amendment, requiring debate, public comment and a vote. Since Chapter 10 exists independently of the zoning amendment, her alternative neither added nor subtracted anything of substance. It simply muddied the waters a little bit. CM Head circulated several messages attempting to prove that there was some significance to it. Nobody was convinced.

I am going to speculate. I used to use a crystal ball for this. Now I usually prefer a Bourbon and soda. The purpose of the useless amendment was to throw the residentialists a small bone, so they could say that they weren’t completely blown off by Council and the restaurant operators.

So the issue before our faithful legislators is: Nadine Ramsey’s original text, or the residentialist sop with the additional thirteen words?

Fast cut to another drama. Last week, Cheron Brylski, a political flack and plotter, wrote a meeting memo to the presidents and execs of VCPORA/FQC, recording several of their agreed positions. They included recruiting and hiring a prominent Black person to agree with them publicly on at least one issue so they could pretend to some diversity, of which they have none. She outlined problems they had in getting votes in Council which boiled down to: not enough White members. They agreed that they would do better in the courts trying to destroy legislation, than in Council trying to influence it. And they resolved not to work or advocate on behalf of a candidate on the West Bank. He was their preference, but they didn’t think he could win because he was White. The memo went public. Damage limitation went into motion and immediately backfired. Things don’t look good for the C.A.V.E.* dwellers.

I will give them credit for one thing: they showed up. I don’t know if I would have. If I had been caught with my pants that far down around my ankles with a written outline of unsavory stuff I was planning to do in my free hand, I would have just called in sick and crawled under the covers. Wouldn’t you like to have a video of the meeting where they decided to show up?

At 2:00 when the restaurant amendment was supposed be up, they form up around their regular bunker, the seats at stage left. It was a bit awkward for them, because Chuck Perkins, partner in Cafe Istanbul and a current victim of residential associationism, there to speak for Ramsey, against division and harassment by neighborhood association busybodies and against bullshit in general, staked out a substantial chunk of turf right in the middle of their usual reserved seats with some friends, so they had to spread out around him, leaving an appropriate moat of space.

Stacy Head opened the show, speaking for the importance of her thirteen words, bringing in some points she had sent out by email in advance, which – sorry, Ms Head – pretty much everyone saw as irrelevant and misleading.

Alcohol is a factor in 40% of all violent crimes today. To consider
a change in our laws that would ease access to alcohol and potentially
further burden our police force while we are experiencing a frightening
spike in violent crime is senseless.

Language warnings: a factor is not a cause. There is no existing difficulty of access to alcohol to ease. The idea that this simplification of restaurant regulation would burden the police would be laughable – unless she really meant it, in which case rather sad.

She had written to some people:

Sure, there are other regulations that may be applicable, but land use will no longer be able to be decided based on the use as a bar.


, , , It will harm new restaurants’ abilities to open because neighborhoods will have more rational reasons to oppose the opening at all.

What does that mean? Lawyers could not tell us, including Miz Stacy herself and CM Susan Guidry, who strove mightily but whose arguments did not rise to coherence.

Most restaurants are in commercial zones. There is nothing to decide. In a conditional space, would people believe a restaurant is a cover story for a bar more than they did before, if the amendment did not include a reference to an existing prior ordinance? If the subject was a restaurant, Chapter 10 would be in the discussion from the beginning. It was making less sense of it, not more.

Nadine Ramsey’s argument was solid. She said citing Chapter 10, an operational ordinance, in a zoning ordinance is muddled law. Furthermore, this has been done in some past instances, leading to ambiguous, incorrectly mixed legislation, which she is going to work on correcting. With her legislative director Aylin Maklansky on the case, I suspect she is going to shine some bright lights into some cobwebby corners.

In her messages and address, Stacy Head emphasized that she was a great champion of restaurants and had performed political miracles for such great places as Lillette’s. Maybe, but it sounded like channeling Jackie Clarkson. “I this, I that, I, I, I.” I don’t agree with CM Head a lot, but she is too smart and capable for recycled Clarkson guff. She wrote one half-good thing though:

“While the naysayers are really irritating, their fears are based in a real history.”

The naysayers in question today were of course the officers and execs of VCPORA/FQC and their allies, and they are really irritating. The half that is wrong is that their fears are real, and that citing Chapter 10 would prevent anything.

Time for public comments. Cut to the two-camera setup.

In the red corner: the discredited FQ gang, glumly seated mostly separated from each other, avoiding eye contact, expressionless, as if meditating or counting rosaries, except battlefield commander Maximum Meg Lousteau, deeply involved with her phone. What was going on in there? Is Putin checking his Middle East strategy with her? Last minute tactical instructions from Cardinal Richelieu watching the live feed? Playing Call of Duty? Or is she looking for a different job? The four conspirators could all be up for the chop for this fiasco. Or maybe Meg is thinking: I have had it with these small-timers. I should go where people appreciate proper urban warfare. Maybe Belfast or Ciudad Juarez. I hear things are hot in Kunduz.

They had worked out an interesting wheeze. All four of the memo ladies were there – all but Brylski. They each put in a support card for Stacy, noting that they did not wish to speak. They were represented by Monsieur Albin, Albin Guillot, who does a little Council cabaret from time to time. They were showing that they didn’t completely roll over, but none of the named accused had to stand at the lectern and risk eye contact with the council members they were now outed as treating disrespectfully.

Guillot opened by telling us what a noble person he is, sacrificing his time and $8.00 parking to stand up for the survival of the French Quarter and the City of New Orleans. (Let’s give him a break: he probably meant that ironically.) 1,421 restaurants were about to become bars through a process known in the catering trades as “morphing.” When this happened, New Orleans’ jig was up. If this amendment passes without CM Head’s thirteen words, it’s over. The chefs will emigrate. The streets will run with drunks from Metairie to Chalmette.

Guillot does enjoy a melodramatic soliloquy about nonsense.

A few others spoke in support of Head’s reference. Shelly Landrieu for Uptown. A guy for the PRC, which should know better than to be in this, especially in alliance with people there is no longer any excuse for; Gallis of Louisiana Landmarks, whose mission used to be more serious than neo-temperance preaching. Julie Jones of Neighbors for Bywater’s name was in; they like to do a “me too” behind the FQ club with two names. Noble of her to follow them on to the rocks.

In the blue corner, supporting Nadine Ramsey against the bottom-feeding attempt to discredit her and her work, the officers and spokesmen of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, the French Quarter Business League and some of the fighting aristocracy of Bourbon Street: Earl Bernhardt, Pam Fortner, Madeleine Schwartz, even the formidable Billie Karno. Shelley Waguespack of Pat O’Brien’s was there, and Alex Fein of the Business League and the Court of Two Sisters. Robert Watters of Rick’s and the French Quarter Business Association. Jude Marullo, who runs most of the bars that the other guys don’t. I was thinking: the hourly wage bill for this crowd is making Guillot’s eight bucks look a pretty good deal.

The underlying issue was not really the thirteen superfluous words. They were a gesture to the French Quarter neurosis, now exposed and derailed. CM Head had started her replacement amendment before Brylski’s memo (it is mentioned in it; the FQers were in the process.) Its purpose had probably always been to save some face for VCPORA/FQC, which after the Brylski obscenity was beyond saving. Thursday, its best hope was to save them from oblivion.

It was looking like Stacy Head, Susan Guidry and the residential associations including the now disgraced ones, which they are saddled with, since they wave a ragged little banner of Preservationism as cover for their real goals, which rarely have anything to do with preserving actual buildings or real history.

The pro-Ramsey side speakers won big on drama and rhetoric – no doubt about that. It is worth watching the video:

Mary Ann Hammett of Bywater Neighborhood Association was up early. She said the reference to Chapter 10 is clearly superfluous. If it has any effect, it will be confusion. The real motivation here, she said, is to undermine our Council Member “. . . and we don’t like it!”

Alex Fein calmly and logically put the position of French Quarter Business League, emphasizing that he has to spend too many afternoons in Council arguing against unnecessary assaults against his industry instead of running his business.

Robert Watters, owner of two well-known Bourbon Street clubs and a restaurant, used to be a tax lawyer. He said businesses need clarity and certainty. Engineering ambiguity into regulation is bad for the city and the industry.

Star of the show was Chuck Perkins, a great speaker who can blend rhythm, reason and stories into a few minutes of concentrated impact. His presentation was built on the endless petty attacks from neighbors, who do not communicate, they snipe from the side. They write notes to each other in newsletters. They snitch to the teacher – in Chuck’s business’s case, Lisa Suarez of FMIA sidestepped her clear responsibility as counter-party to a Community Benefit Agreement by going to the ABO prosecutor to complain not about his business, the marvelous Cafe Istanbul, but about some of the crowds when they leave. And you know what? I’m sure it is just a coincidence, for they are all honorable men – but it just so happens that Chuck and every face shown in the persecutor’s evidence videos is Black, and every complainant and whiner in the affair is White. Any tinge of anxiety and aggravation at racial incursion into White Space in there? Oh, no. Perish the thought.

Chuck made a statement that resonated with the audience and the Council: you can be sure Susan Spicer is not going to be cited for some silly infraction of her holding bars; it will be some small restaurant trying to make a living or grow, possibly with a minority owner already struggling with a few strikes that just come with the territory, attacked by a neighbor or group that just doesn’t like it.

Earl Bernhardt, owner with Pam Fortner of the Tropical Isle group and the Orleans Grapevine restaurant (great place) told the story of one case of a morphing restaurant, the one that never happened. His. When he was preparing to open the Grapevine, VCPORA harassed and obstructed the process at every step, based on the assertion: Bernhardt says it is a restaurant, but in six months, he will turn it into a noisy bar with falling-down drunks outside. A fine example of residentialist “facts”: just make shit up. Eventually, Earl had to sue VCPORA to compel them to stop the crap. So the French Quarter’s most prominent morph story is a fiction. Earl also touched on employment, as a partner in the Besh group had earlier. The businesses the FQ jihad wants legal grounds to harass are substantial employers and contributors to the city.

Jeremy Deblieux of Acme Oyster House, with over three decades in New Orleans restaurant and bar business experience, said the real cases of restaurants “morphing” are – zero.

A woman I had not seen before, Ally Conley, if I am spelling it right, spoke very clearly and concisely. Restaurants are running well. Ramsey’s amendment is clear and allows them to continue to do so without having to look over their shoulder to see if Meg’s minions are coming with torches and pitchforks. And that the neighborhood associations continue to sow discord and division and should be stopped. Well done. I am now a new fan of Ms Conley.

Watch the video for the Council Members’ comments. James Gray was as usual superb. His parents taught him you will be known by the company you keep, and there are certain people you cannot run with if you want to stay clean and healthy. That includes people who conspire to undermine council members, foment division and disrupt municipal processes for their own interests, so as much as he respects Stacy’s work: no.

They could have charged admission for LaToya Cantrell’s rebuttal of the Brylskimail. She was mentioned in it, with implications that she was afraid to be seen to vote with the white members. She rebutted the accusations with the mockery it deserves. I reckon it for BS because if there is one thing I have observed about CM Cantrell over the last couple of years – she ain’t afraid of much, and that would include a few White people and residents’ associationers whispering behind their hands.

Guidry: morphing and all that, plus another rejection of the Brylskimail, in which she was personally cited as well. It had to do with Hardie’s attempt to have Maple Street exempted from the CZO so he could supress restaurants and bars. The content was probably right – it can’t get the votes. The pretension to direct knowledge from Guidry is probably invented, but not a big deal or a secret anyway. Hardie’s motion kept losing. Everybody knew it. Don’t you wish CM Guidry would really grasp the reptilian nature of the people she frequently supports and just blow them off? Listen to James Gray, Susan: you don’t want to be seen running with those kids.

Jason Williams: perfectamundo! Did the office of President proud. He said, while he is in that seat, attempts to undermine and obstruct Council Members, any of them, whether those he agrees with or those he does not on an issue, will not be tolerated. If there is one way you are sure to lose, he said, it’s playing dirty. And he advised everybody to pay attention to the words of Chuck Perkins and his conclusion: government should be helping these businesses to prosper, not forcing them to spend two Thursdays a month defending against urban piranhas.


  • Emailgate is not just Cheron Brylski. I don’t want to defend her. I think dirty pool is her game, and it’s ugly. But she is the messenger. All the named officers and execs are complicit. They say they would do better in the courts than before the Council, but if they were in a trial, it would be a clear conspiracy. They would all be going away – except for the one who decided to blow the whistle on the other four. That plea bargain would take about five minutes to get started. The message isn’t Don’t shoot the messenger. It’s Don’t shoot just the messenger.
  • CM Cantrell, for instance, says she did not speak to Brylski. But neither did Brylski. From the memo:

“Meg . . . and Carol G. will continue to feel out LaToya, who is increasingly concerned about voting with the “whites” on the Council.”

That does not make the assertion any more true or less conjectural. But it shows that this is active teamwork by at least the paid mercenaries of these public spirited conspiracies, and accessory before by the presidents.

  • The Brylskimail’s significance is not just the immediate content. It is a glimpse into the game these people play. I have been saying so for a long time, and now there is no denying it. As predicted, the chief players have finally dragged the clubs into the gutter.
  • If Council, the administration and the people have the will to make this stick, we can be free of their threat and damage, at least for a few years, unless they lawyer up good and decide to turn Civil Court into their full time playground. City Council and NOLAscape can both deal with more important stuff than the petty obstruction of petty people who have advanced skills of gaming the municipal system in their own interests.
  • CMs Guidry and Head, if you want to protect the French Quarter, find better partners. I recommend the FQ Management District. Baton Rouge gave the annoying clubs too many seats on it, but not enough to defeat the grownups.

VCPORA and French Quarter Citizens amount to one club with two names. They should not have two seats on the FQMD commission. This could be the opportunity to fix that.

People should not be allowed to speak in Council claiming to represent an organization, unless it is clear and transparent what and who that organization is. Most neighborhood groups do so. VCPORA and FQC refuse to disclose any membership information. They should be barred from addressing Council until they do.

They hit the rocks. Right thinking people should help ensure the injuries are terminal. To have some fun with mixed cliches: The ship of fools is holed below the waterline.

Oh, did I mention? Nadine Ramsey’s sensible amendment passed, 5-2.

Here’s the deal, and then I am outta here: this is a chance to end a nasty chapter in the history neighborhood club harassment. The pillars of the nastier aspects of residential associationism are VCPORA/FQC. They are more than on the ropes – they are on the mat. We know they were playing a dirty game the whole time. Just finish them off.

Their preservationist pretensions are bogus. I am probably more preservationist than they are, because I would bother to actually find out what I was talking about before I got righteous about it. And if I was active in a preservationist club, I would make our members work a little harder on what they do want as well as just sniping at others who are trying to accomplish something.

It is a chance to turn the page. Even Stacy Head and Susan Guidry can no longer claim their French Quarter gang friends deserve respect.

There are alternatives. Look to French Quarter Advocates and Bywater Neighborhood Association for serious people committed to basic human decency and building a great city.

* Citizens Against Virtually Everything (nicked from a public comment at CPC).

Bob Freilich October 2015

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