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Mardi Gras Countdown PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
January 2017

Can a local impresario pull off a street fest on short notice?

APix_MarkSell_1-17fter four years of fits and starts, North Miami is finally getting its Mardi Gras festival, set for Sunday, January 29. But we’ve got barely 45 days’ notice.

The city council on December 13 voted 3-2 to subsidize $250,000 in costs and deposits for the privately run festival. The city will receive no share of the take.

If even a fraction of the touted acts turn up, this free event will be big. Picture a parade of floats along 125th Street from 6th to 12th avenues from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.; acts from 15 countries; food and drink vendors; plenty of dancing; and a crowd of better than 8000.

Among the possible acts: Jamaican singer Shaggy; Paulo Gualano’s Brazilian samba troupe; hip hop artist Ace Hood; “King of Soca” Machel Montano; multi-talented Jamaican artist Jean Paul; rapper Jim Jones; compas band Tabou Combo; and folkloric groups from Spain, Honduras, and Colombia.

Yet as of this writing (December 17), no acts have been signed, though some are “in negotiations.” There’s no website, no master plan, no advertising. The organizing entity, Fahrenheit Music Festival LLC, was just incorporated in early December. So be sure to Google “Mardi Gras North Miami 2017” to learn the latest.

“I think the majority of my people in my district would like to see a carnival,” says District 3 Councilman Philippe Bien-Aime, co-sponsor of the resolution with Mayor Smith Joseph. District 4 Councilman Alix Desulme joined them as a reluctant swing vote.

“There are so many ways for this to go wrong in six weeks’ time,” says District 1 Councilman Scott Galvin, who joined District 2 Councilwoman Carol Keys on the losing end. Bien-Aime, Joseph, and Keys have all filed for re-election May 9, and the Mardi Gras vote threatens to loom large in the debate leading up to the election and a potential $100 million bond issue vote.

As for expenses, the Fourth of July costs the city $35,000, the Hispanic Heritage Festival about $15,000, the Thanksgiving Day parade $52,000. Yet the City of North Miami approved $150,000 to co-sponsor the November North Miami Brewfest with Florida International University at Joseph’s urging, an event that attracted perhaps 900 to the Biscayne Bay campus with admission starting at $25.

Mardi Gras prime mover is Ruix “Ringo” Cayard, age 63. He’s a lobbyist, impresario, promoter, political kingmaker, Haitian-American activist, community lightning rod, and onetime director of the defunct Haitian American Foundation Inc. (HAFI). His family owns Cayard’s Bakery at 12801 W. Dixie Highway.

While Ringo Cayard’s name is nowhere on Fahrenheit’s corporate records -- he describes himself as promoter rather than operator -- his brother Jean Cayard and son Kevin Cayard are both listed as agents.

Ringo Cayard has done lots of Mardi Gras festivals. By his own reckoning, he put together 15 of them between 1983 and 2006, in Haiti, Europe, Morocco, and North America, and, from 2002 to 2005, along Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami. If you check “North Miami Mardi Gras” on YouTube, you’ll see downtown Miami Mardi Gras footage featuring former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz exhorting tens of thousands of celebrants.

“I know what I am doing,” Cayard says. “When the Dolphins win a Super Bowl, you put a parade together...in three days.”

Cayard did not speak at the December 13 meeting, yielding the floor to talent coordinator Chin Goodleigh. Cayard did say later that the group is getting plenty of free help from the Cirque de Soleil and the Circo de Bakuza of Montreal, which recently put together shows for France’s Euro 2016 soccer tournament and Brazil’s World Cup.

For Cayard, getting back into the Mardi Gras business is a shot at redemption after a seven-year rough patch starting in 2006.

He hasn’t been hiding. In September he brought Donald Trump to Little Haiti. A onetime friend of the Clintons, he said he was disenchanted with the Clinton Foundation’s performance in Haitian earthquake relief. Last year he was Miami’s emissary at Pope Francis’s visit to Washington. In May 2013, he received a Key to the City of Miami.

Yet in 2006, Cayard lost his Miami Mardi Gras business when authorities investigated his activities at HAFI. His use of Mardi Gras funds was one issue. In 2008 Cayard was arrested, handcuffed, and charged with 22 counts of corruption and money laundering, with his mug shot all over the papers and TV.

Cayard never went to trial. The criminal case crumbled and all charges were eventually dropped, with a final settlement in 2013. Cayard says the ordeal cost him $540,000, and to this day he is angry that it happened at all.

Undeterred, he went before the North Miami Council in March 2013 to revive the Mardi Gras, and got approval for $120,000. Of that sum, Cayard got $92,000 to pay deposits and vendors. Although the event was promoted for April 2014, Lucie Tondreau and the new council pulled the plug as the project stalled and fizzled, saying they were not seeing concrete results.

Yet in October 2015, Cayard returned, this time with Dr. Smith Joseph as mayor, and Mardi Gras was back on the table, pending details. In April 2016, Cayard returned to a skeptical council, undergoing sharp questioning from Galvin, who had been there in 2013, when the council pulled the plug. But by September, Mardi Gras and $250,000 were back on the budget.

By December 13, everyone knew the vote was a 3-2 lock. But the stage was also set for a new era of tensions within the council as municipal election season gets under way. Smith Joseph likes to think big, cementing a legacy as a builder for the “city on the move.” One way is through a possible $100 million bond issue, but that’s tough to pull off in time for the May 9 election, and a tough sell for many voters, anyway.

North Miami remains in many ways a hard-pressed, plurality-Haitian city with plenty of poverty, substandard housing, broken roads, and aging water pipes and sewer lines. Bien-Aime, for one, questions why the city budgets so much for the Museum of Contemporary Art ($1.4 million this year) or $150,000 for the FIU craft beer fest, while his colleagues recoil at $250,000 for a Caribbean-themed carnival for everybody.

As for the brewfest expense, Galvin says, “I would suggest that FIU has a longer track record than a company that has lasted since December 5.”

Last April, Cayard told the council that he could pull off a great Mardi Gras event in 45 days. Now the city has given him the chance to prove it.

 

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