PATERSON — The city’s ethnic parades, a regional tradition for decades, have been called off or likely will be — or at best be relocated — this year because of budget woes.
The Puerto Rican, Dominican and African-American parades, which attracted tens of thousands of people, face shutdown after Mayor Jeffery Jones demanded that organizers pay as much as $100,000 for police and cleanup after the event.
In the past, the city charged organizers nothing for police overtime and sanitation, organizers said.
Peruvians were set to celebrate their 25th annual parade in Paterson next month. The event has brought in more than 35,000 people from as far away as Florida. But organizers moved the event to Passaic and Clifton after Jones asked them to provide $56,000.
Some event organizers said Paterson was taking away their freedom of speech and cutting off a tradition that brought Paterson’s diverse groups together. They said the mayor was effectively banning the events, because none of the committees would be able to come up with the fees.
“They are putting a price on our constitutional right,” said Elsa Mantilla, organizer and founder of the Dominican parade, which would have celebrated its 22nd year. “If we can pay, we can have a parade; if we can’t pay, we can’t. How can you put a price on our culture? If the city can do this to us today, what are they the going to do to us tomorrow?”
Jones told Dominican parade organizers they would have to come up with $100,000 before the city would issue permits, Mantilla said. She said she was exploring legal action and hopes that the court will find the fees illegal. But unless courts force the city to change its policy, the parade is off, Mantilla said. She said she had not made an announcement about the cancellation as of Friday.
“Telling us to come up with $100,000 is a diplomatic way of saying ‘You can’t have the parade,’ ” she said.
The throngs of parade-goers, many wearing traditional garb, were a reliable boon for downtown Paterson‘s restaurants and bakeries, several owners said.
“The economy is still bad, and this is not good for business,” said Ysai Valencia, 41, the owner of Los Immortales, a Peruvian bakery on Market Street. “We don’t understand what happened.” Valencia said sales on parade day were typically $9,000 higher than average.
Jones said the city could not afford the events this year, right after he was forced to lay off more than 200 workers, including 125 police officers. He said forcing parade groups to pay, or not holding the events, would save the city up to $500,000.
“There is no constitutional right to have parades,” said Jones. “The city has never been under so much financial pressure, and we don’t have the money.”
Jones also said with the police force down 25 percent, the city didn’t have the staffing to keep the events safe. “If we need 50 police for an event, but we only have 12, who is going to be responsible if something happens?” he asked.
While presenting a new shock in Paterson, parade fees are a familiar requirement elsewhere in North Jersey. In neighboring Bergen County, footing the bill for municipal services is nothing new for some parade organizers. Lauren Zisa, who has organized Hackensack‘s Columbus Day Parade the past four years, must find enough sponsors to cover more than $50,000 in costs before this year’s 3,000-member march down Main Street on Oct. 9. That price tag includes everything from police security and cleanup to the band and balloons.
“Anything that’s not city-sponsored, the event people have to pay for,” she said. “It’s no surprise.”
The state Department of Community Affairs, which oversees much of Paterson‘s spending as part of a state aid agreement, said the city would be allowed to pay for parade security and cleanup.
“That being said, we would generally support the [mayor's] position … that taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund parades, or any non-essential activities, during these times of financial difficulty,” DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said.
Still, several City Council members have come out against the mayor’s action. Councilman Rigo Rodriguez said tthe city has a responsibility to provide services for the events.
“There is no rule on the books that says [parade organizers] have to pay for protection of citizens in a parade,” the councilman said. “Citizens have paid their taxes, and this is the obligation of the city. The mayor is demoralizing these communities.”
Ada Pugh, who cancelled the African Heritage Parade scheduled for June 18, said she understood the city’s decision. Pugh said the group would hold a festival at Eastside Park instead.
“You can’t blame the mayor. You have to look at the economic situation in the city,” Pugh said. “We all knew this was coming for years.”
2010 Images of Dominican Parade.
[flagallery gid=1 name="Gallery"]
Filed Under: FEATURED
About the Author: