Charles Gilliam's weekly planner is covered in black ink, the cream-colored pages filled neatly with names and times.

Gilliam's days are spent keeping the appointments noted in his planner. A co-owner of Okra's restaurant, Gilliam has been busy appealing to Old Town shopkeepers, Manassas officials and the religious community to allow him to stage a Mardi Gras festival in March.

It's a challenge, Gilliam said. Especially when some detractors have labeled the event a "modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah."

In addition, the Manassas Mardi Gras has a spotty track record. Last year, the fourth annual event didn't come off the way Gilliam thought it would.

A week before Bourbon Street was to come to Battle Street, the Manassas City Council denied Okra's street-closure permit following an outcry from several Old Town business owners, church groups and residents.

Opponents argued that the event would harm businesses, attract an undesirable crowd and encourage immoral behavior.

Mayor Marvin L. Gillum (R) said at the time, "We just felt it was an inappropriate celebration for our community."

That has not deterred Gilliam this year. In fact, he plans a bigger Mardi Gras, the annual festival that marks the last day before the beginning of Lent.

The Manassas Mardi Gras was first staged by Okra's in 1999, an indoor event that went outdoors in 2000. Okra's served food, music and beer on a block of Battle street closed off to traffic between Church and Center streets. The last time it was held outdoors, in 2001, an estimated 2,000 people attended.

This year, Gilliam wants the city to close off three times the street space. On Jan. 10, Gilliam asked city officials for permission to close Center Street from West to Main streets, and Battle Street between Center and Church streets, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. March 4.

Last week, Manassas Police Chief John J. Skinner denied the permit. On Thursday, Gilliam appealed to City Manager Lawrence D. Hughes.

Gilliam "is particularly passionate about this," said Hughes, who will make a final decision tomorrow.

"I think closing the streets to most businesses [on Center Street] is problematic," Hughes said, noting that children live along portions of Center Street.

Serving alcohol in a public setting isn't the principal issue, Hughes said.

"Lots of communities have Oktoberfests and wine festivals. We hope to have a wine festival at the [Loy E. Harris Pavilion] during the next year," Hughes said. "There's a broader objection to the celebration of Mardi Gras."

Gilliam said the support he has gotten so far has been overwhelming. He said that he has met with hundreds of people and that fewer than a dozen oppose the event.

He apparently hasn't talked with Denny Nissley, who heads up Christ in Action, a nonprofit based in Manassas. Nissley said that he met with other church leaders last week to plan their opposition, and that two dozen local churches are prepared to fight Gilliam's plans.

Nissley, who lives just outside Manassas, said he doesn't think the city should allow an event that he said encourages nudity and underage drinking in a public area.

In 2001, someone was arrested on drunkenness charges, another for public nudity and another for assault and battery, records show.

"I'm not anti-downtown. I'm anti-having a Mardi Gras celebration outdoors," Nissley said. "When it comes out into the street, it becomes my business."

Gilliam's plans call for a sectioned-off area where he'll serve beer and wine, with children's games and other "family-oriented activities" in a separate area.

"This will truly be a community event; everyone is invited to be a part of what's going on," Gilliam said.

"I'm sorry, you can't take a drunken Mardi Gras celebration and make it a family anything," said Nissley, who has 11 children.

Joanne Wunderly, who owns The Things I Love down the street from Okra's, opposes any event that would force her to close down her shop.

"I want this town to flourish," Wunderly said. "But you don't do it when you're harming another business."

Charles Gilliam waves a fistful of beads as he marches down Center Street during the first outdoors Mardi Gras in Old Town Manassas, in 2000.