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Interview with John Barry

The irreverent Krewe du Vieux seems to have found an ideal King for its 2014 procession in John Barry, the historian and author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America. The krewe is known to take aim at the establishment with playful floats filled with ribald imagery and wordplay, and Barry certainly has experience standing up to the big shots. In fall 2013, after Barry’s term expired, Gov. Bobby Jindal didn’t renew his position as vice chairman of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) board, which planned to file a massive lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies claiming they had a role in the damaging the Louisiana coast. While there are many sides to the issue, Jindal replaced Barry and two other board members with appointees who aimed to kill the lawsuit. But Barry is still working to keep the lawsuit alive with the nonprofit he formed, and he reigns as king of Krewe du Vieux when it rolls Feb. 15 in the Marigny Triangle and Lower French Quarter. Barry talks about the lawsuit and why anyone wanting beads from him needs to get up close.

The parade’s theme this year is “Where the Vile Things Are.” What are you hoping the krewe does with that? Well, I think there’s certainly a lot of vile political activity surrounding the lawsuit that I hope they got. It’s a pretty easy target.

Many have said that since Gov. Jindal ousted you from SLFPA-E, you’re free to speak your mind more. Is that why you wanted to align yourself with a krewe that’s known for that? [Being chosen as King] really is, if I can be serious, an honor. It’s not like being run out of town on a rail … I was flattered, of course. So of course I accepted. A line that I used back when I was introduced to the krewe – I went to a party a few weeks ago, and I had about 10 seconds on the podium. I interrupted a band; no one was listening to me, which I recognized, so I kept my speech brief. What I said was, “[Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority chairman] Garret Graves said I filed the lawsuit for fame, and now I have achieved it.” So I’ve been wondering if that means I should now withdraw my support for the lawsuit. I don’t think I will do that.

What’s the status of the lawsuit and your involvement with it? I formed a nonprofit called Restore Louisiana Now (RestoreLouisianaNow.org). The purpose of that is to get involved in politics and convince the legislator to stay out of the courts – we want the lawsuit settled in court, which is where lawsuits should be settled.

Anything else you’re working on currently? That’s taking 10 hours a day, frankly.

Is there anything you can tell us about the parade?  I’m not even in the loop, to tell you the truth. I haven’t been a member of the krewe before … and they had already picked their theme [when the invitation came]. I can tell people that if they want me to throw them something, they better get close because I have a torn rotator cuff. That’s the only thing I can say about my role.

For more information, visit KreweDuVieux.org.

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