Officials in one New York County fired Santa Clause in a move to save money by shaving $660 of Suffolk County’s $2.7 billion budget.
For the past 10 years, 83-year-old David McKell, a World War II veteran and former homicide detective, heard children’s Christmas wishes as he played Santa on Long Island.
Suffolk County executive Steve Levy said the cost-cutting measure was necessary.
“How do you justify that expenditure when a health center is losing money?” said Steve Levy, the Suffolk County Executive, to Reuters.
It was a decision that gave McKell the layoff notice and quickly led to Levy being called a Grinch.
"I mean $600? Give me a break," said Suffolk County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki to Reuters. "There comes a point where you go overboard in terms of penny-pinching."
Dozens of people in the community volunteered to pay Santa’s salary, according to reports. Levy also offered to wear the suit periodically throughout the holiday season.
Nevertheless, the most recent layoff in Suffolk County is not just affecting Christmas cheer; it is becoming highly politicized.
Steve Bellone, town supervisor in Babylon, N.Y., said he would pay for Santa, Reuters reported. Bellone is running as a candidate to succeed Levy, who is not running for reelection.
Levy said the move amounted to nothing more than “pure grandstanding,” Reuters reported.
Levy’s office is now investigating whether the $660 check that Bellone gave McKell violated rules regulating gifts to county agencies.
The money budgeted for Santa covered McKell’s gas and other nominal expenses related to the seasonal job.
It is unclear what political fallout may arise from firing Santa and the subsequent investigation into the newly funded position.
Angie Carpenter, who is also running for the open county executive seat, said Bellone owes the public an apology for paying McKell’s Santa-related expenses, according to a WCBS report.
“They (Bellone’s team) create this scam of Santa-Gate, you know that Santa is being fired and he (Bellone) rides in on a horse as the white knight and saves the day,” said Carpenter to WCBS. “This is not appropriate.”
McKell, with his holiday role restored, is keeping in good cheer through the recent political turmoil surrounding his recent firing.
“I wish him (Levy) a very merry Christmas and a happy new year,” said McKell to Reuters.