On April 20, 1999 the Soulard Mardi Gras Community Forum was held. It was an apres Mardi Gras event to uncover problems and complaints resulting from the Grand Parade Day. Some time after the forum there was made available a "summary of issues identified."
This summary is interesting reading, primarily because most of the issues raised and problems uncovered remain unresolved to this day. For example, at the top of the list is the category Unacceptable Behaviors of Crowd. Bullet point items were:
Bringing in alcohol (coolers)
Lack of enforcement by police of existing laws
On this list, the one item which has been corrected is "bringing in alcohol (coolers)." This behavior is totally unacceptable to those who sell booze during the event. There are now paid guards at neighborhood entrances to make sure no miscellaneous booze is smuggled into Soulard during the Grand Parade Day drunk.
After a period of discussion, forum attendees were divided into 19 groups and asked to list their views of the event. Not wishing to bore readers, Madame Chouteau numbered 19 pieces of paper and choose one piece from a hat. Number 18 came up. Following are the items generated by Group 18:
Coolers (outside liquor coming in)
Car access - in crowd areas
Neighborhood parking - lack of
Media coverage - negative
Event too large
Inconvenient to residents
Tuesday event was disaster
That the unsavory nature of the Grand Parade Day has not changed is underlined by a story titled "Mardi Gras revelry brings protest," printed in the Wednesday, March 26, 2008 issue of the South Side Journal. Written by Jim Merkel, the article begins:
"Lloyd Harvey has participated in sit-ins at segregated Woolworths stores during the Civil Rights era, fought for the homeless and victims of HIV/AIDS and formed a tenants association to fight a landlord.
"The 75-year-old artist is topping it off with a campaign to fight hours of jarring music and what he believes is rampant public urination once a year within close view and hearing of a South Side senior citizen apartment building.
"Harvey lives on the fourth floor of the Allen Market Lane Senior Living Apartments on the northwest corner of 12th Street and Russell Boulevard in the Soulard neighborhood.
"That’s five blocks west of the annual parade route and toward the edge of where thousands of revelers party for hours after the parade.
"Harvey has watched the antics of revelers during three Mardi Gras parade days. He’s looked out his window facing Russell and seen a street full of people celebrating and heard loud, jarring music all day, he said.
"This year, he said, he heard a DJ constantly shouting to people, ‘Let’s get drunk.’"
Article author Jim Merkel quotes a spectrum of St. Louis personalities who have fingers in the Mardi Gras pot. They all declare their shock and surprise about the complaints of Harvey, and they all express their apologies. Implied is their helplessness to correct problems, although they all testify that they sure are working on it.
A quote from Alderman Phyllis Young is symptomatic. As printed:
"Young agreed there’s a serious public urination problem which she’s seen around her own property. People will stand next to porta potties and urinate, she said. ‘It’s like they lose any sense of public decency that they had.’"
The Honorable Phyllis Young pretty much puts her finger on the problem: a lack of public decency, encouraged by the beneficiaries, the bars, and winked at by the political leadership of St. Louis, who apparently feels that the negatives of the event are outweighed by the positives: the money which trickles into the city coffers as the result of taxes collected.
In fact, this "festival" taints everything that comes into contact with it, including the annual Mayor’s Mardi Gras Ball, a goofy celebration of how good things are going for St. Louis, when, in fact, problems for the City are looming in every direction. The "what me worry" attitude of this peculiar act of blindness, held at City Hall the evening before the Grand Parade Day debacle, is spotlighted in a blog posting dated Jan. 7, 2010 and titled "Francis Slay Touts Mardi Gras Ball, While 17,000 St. Louisans Cannot Find Work" by Thomas Duda at http://notmymayor.com.
Over the last decade, if thought and integrity had been devoted to growing St. Louis, rather than greed and stupidity to growing the Soulard Mardi Gras Drunk, St. Louis might not be in as bad a shape as it now is.