Claus Célèbre

Santa Claus is coming to Suffolk County. But not easily.

Like most places in the country, New York’s Suffolk County has had a tough budget-balancing act this year. Specifically, it had a $135 million budget gap and some ugly choices to make to close it.

Which, perhaps, is why the county chose to save $660 by firing Santa Claus.

Ho-ho-hold it. Democrats and Republicans alike lined up to denounce the cutting  of David McKell, a World War II veteran and former police detective who had spent nine Christmases in the red suit.

“I mean, $600? Give me a break,” Republican county comptroller Joseph Sawicki said, according to Reuters. “There comes a point where you go overboard in terms of penny-pinching.”


In some ways, I can feel for Suffolk County. This was a battle they weren’t going to win either way. Leave it in and someone’s bound to do a “Fleecing of America” type story about how the county has money for Santa Claus but not for (fill in the blank). Cut it out and you’re the Grinch who stole Christmas.

Still, count me among the Santa-backers in this one.

No, this isn’t roads or firefighters or any of the other vital services people think of in a local budget. I’ll grant that.

But it’s six hundred bucks.

More than that, it’s one of those things that makes a community.

Every budget has them – the little pieces of color that make an area fun. It might be a festival to celebrate a town’s mining heritage. Or a fireworks show. Or a town band.

Politicians like to use the bland phrase “quality of life.” Residents usually say things like “part of why we moved here.”

They’re part of a community’s soul.

We can argue day-in and day-out about whether a local government has any business paying Santa Claus or shooting off skyrockets. But that’s part of the point. The local government is thee and me, and it will (or should) support those things we feel make a place worth living in.

If that includes a man in a beard and red coat, is that so bad?

A former Denver Post editor once reminded me of something important. Newspapers have to uncover problems and point out issues, he said, “but it’s not illegal to give people reason to hope.”

That’s true for governments,too.

Like I said, Santa is back on the job. A newly elected town supervisor put forward the money himself during his campaign. Grandstanding? Maybe. But so was making a $660 cut that couldn’t be anything but symbolic.

Budget cutting can be rough. But it shouldn’t be a lost Claus.

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