Santa Job Slayed By Cash-Strapped County on Long Island

But now a local politician has stepped in and offered to pay the $660 salary.

By Greg Cergol
|  Friday, Nov 4, 2011  |  Updated 4:39 PM EDT
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Even Santa's gotten the pink slip.

Officials on Long Island say there is no money in the budget to pay a man $660 for playing Santa at a general store run by Suffolk County.

David McKell, 83, has played Santa for nine years at the St. James General Store, which gets decorated like Santa's workshop. The retired police detective lieutenant and former state trooper sits in a rocking chair in the back, handing out candy canes and posing for photos with children.

"It was a short-sighted decision," McKell said.

Officials had been looking for volunteers to take shifts. Even the county executive, Steve Levy, has volunteered to wear the suit for a few hours.

"With 750 people facing layoffs and state aid cuts to our health centers, our budget situation constantly forces us to make tough choices," said Mark Smith, a spokesman for Levy.

But after the story was reported Friday, a Democrat running for county executive held a press conference in front of the store, announcing he would personally pay for Santa's salary, indicating that McKell would be able to work the holiday after all.

"This is personal, not political," said Steve Bellone, a Democrat. "Politics ends at the North Pole. This is about all the kids of this county and my own kids getting a chance to come here."

Bellone's Republican opponent Angie Carpenter called it a "cheap political stunt," and Levy also questioned why anyone would spend the money if the county could get a volunteer.

Some say the county took financial discipline a bit too far by firing Santa.

"I know our fiscal condition is dire, but I don't know it's that bad that we have to fire a part-time Santa," Presiding Officer William Lindsay told Newsday.

The county is already considering layoffs for 750 employees to help close an estimated $135 million budget gap.

Built in 1857, the St. James General Store is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was operated privately for decades until Suffolk took it over in 1990.

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