Connecticut Mayor Under Fire for Proposing to Cut Christmas, July 4 Celebrations



Just call him the Grinch that stole the Fourth of July.

Some residents of New Haven, Conn., are giving their mayor an earful after he proposed several measures to close the city's budget gap, including cutting funding for the city's Independence Day and Christmas celebrations.

"It's very cruel," said longtime New Haven resident and business owner Glenn Nelson. "A lot of children look forward to the tree and fireworks. It's a cynical and vindictive move on the part of the mayor to do this."

In an effort to relieve taxpayers and tackle the city's whopping deficit, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. is calling to cut $6 million out of the city's $476 million budget.

The cutbacks include scrapping the city's Christmas Tree on the Green, its July 4 fireworks and a yearly printed calendar -- which combined hold an $86,000 price tag. The plan also includes cuts to New Haven's police force and reduced spending on the city's education system, including eliminating school custodial services and a program for gifted students.

"We made some very difficult decisions here," but there's really a diverse package of cuts that we're proposing," DeStefano's spokeswoman, Jessica Mayorga, told

Not so, say local activists, some of whom are accusing the mayor of purposely targeting religious and patriotic traditions. They say his proposed $6 million cut -- which amounts to less than 2 percent of the city's annual budget -- will do little to help taxpayers.

"This was done to ensure that people scream about the budget cuts," said Gary Doyes, co-founder of New Haven Citizens Action Network, a coalition of activists who are pushing for a $47 million cut -- or 10 percent of the city's annual budget.

"There are so many other things that he didn't cut, but could," Doyes told "To cut cultural icons is just foolishness."

Saying, "I'm not sure how you get to $20,000 for a tree with lights on it ...." Doyes said his group will consider raising funds privately to ensure the city has its holiday tree. Nelson, meanwhile, has been quietly protesting the mayor's move; he attended a city meeting Tuesday wearing a Grinch-like hat adorned with a small Christmas tree and lights.

Others say the mayor could free up some much-needed dollars by doing away with the city's "sanctuary" status for illegal immigrants.

"If he's going to propose these cuts, he should definitely cut money for programs that help illegal immigrants," said Paul Streitz, co-founder of Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Control. "Obviously the mayor has his priorities and his priorities are for illegal immigrants."

An estimated 10,000-15,000 of New Haven's immigrant population is undocumented, and the city became the first in the nation in 2007 to offer identification cards to illegal immigrants. The controversial city ID program, which allows for immigrants to open bank accounts and use other services without having a driver's license or state-issued ID, was previously paid for with more than $200,000 in grants. 

The grants have dried up and DeStefano is now proposing that the program be paid for with general funds, The New Haven Register reported.

Also lining up in opposition are some veterans, who have expressed outrage at the proposed cut on July 4 festivities. "It's terrible," said Bob Murray, state vice commander of the American Legion. "The Fourth of July is what holds us together as a country."

The mayor's office says that under the plan, the proposed property tax increase would fall from 8 percent to 4 percent, and average homeowners would see only an $18 a month increase to their tax bill.

"These are tough times all over America and there are plenty of tough choices in front of us," DeStefano said in a statement released Monday. "This budget won’t be easy for anyone, but it gets done what must be done...."