Police OT forces Columbus Day parade move to Shelton
BRIDGEPORT - The annual Columbus Day Parade, a 109 year tradition in the city, will not be in town for its 110th celebration next month.
Unable to resolve a dispute with Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration over police overtime costs, parade organizers Thursday night voted to move the event from the mile-and-a-quarter Madison Avenue route to neighboring Shelton, where the associated costs will be cheaper.
“We had two choices,” said former state Rep. Christopher Caruso, who has helped spearhead Bridgeport’s Columbus Day event for several years. “To cancel or move to another city or town. ... I want to thank the mayor of Shelton and city of Shelton. Through their generosity and spirit a 110-year-old tradition continues.”
Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, the parade’s grand marshal last year, said in an interview Friday morning that this year’s festivities on Oct. 7, the Sunday prior to the Columbus Day holiday, will coincide with Shelton Day. So, Lauretti said, his streets were already going to be closed along the parade route.
“Irrespective, I think I’d do it anyway,” Lauretti said. “Traditions are important. ... Look, there’s a lot of Italian Americans in this valley who moved here from Bridgeport that appreciate this tradition.”
As previously reported, Caruso and organizers of other Bridgeport-based parades have for months been at odds with the Ganim administration, which for the first time last year began asking they help foot related public safety costs.
But those other event organizers have tried to come up with the money owed or altered their routes. This summer’s Barnum Festival Parade, for example, relocated to Bridgeport’s Seaside Park to avoid the need to have cops shut down city streets.
As of late June, however, Caruso was still refusing to pay Bridgeport the $7,127 the Columbus Day Parade owed from last year. That, he said Friday, resulted in the police department recently refusing to issue the parade a permit for this October.
“Publicly and privately in meetings I made it clear that we weren’t paying,” Caruso said. “The bottom line is we can’t charge people to watch a parade, and police overtime escalates every year. We looked at the future and said, ‘We’re not going to be able to sustain this.’”
Cop overtime is a constant struggle in Bridgeport. Just this week city finance staff warned members of the City Council that, two months into the new fiscal year, the police department was already on track to be over budget by next July 1.
The cops had spent $8.2 million on overtime when the 2017/18 fiscal year ended June 30 — $2.7 million more than the department’s $5.5 million budget.
Ganim’s office in a statement for this story insisted the administration made “every effort” to try to accommodate the Columbus Day Parade and has worked with other parades as well to help meet public safety and public facilities needs.
“We are looking forward to hosting an Italian American Festival in Bridgeport Columbus Day weekend to honor the tradition,” the statement concluded. Ganim’s spokesperson, Rowena White, could not immediately offer more details on that event.
Like canceling Christmas
Caruso chuckled when told of City Hall’s festival alternative: “I would have hoped they would have put more energy into trying to keep a 110-year-old tradition in Bridgeport than to go off and do something totally different.”
Bridgeport, however, is hardly alone in asking its parades to help cover related costs. New Haven does as well.
Earlier this year Bridgeport Police Chief Armando “A.J.” Perez argued if the city is going after the non-profit parades, he would also like to see the for-profit entertainment venues like the arena and the under-construction concert amphitheater pay for the costs of policing their athletic events and musical acts.
Anthony Paoletto, 22, is an ex-Bridgeport Councilman and current member of the Democratic Town Committee.
“It’s like they canceled Christmas,” Paoletto said, recalling all of the years his family attended the Columbus Day Parade. “This tradition has gone on over 100 years in Bridgeport. Every other parade has come up with the costs of the festivals they wanted to do and it’s not right to just leave the city.”
Even Kate Rivera, a former school board member who in 2015 successfully lobbied to have the public schools celebrate Indigenous People’s Day rather than Columbus Day, was sorry to see the parade leave town.
“I’m not glad to see it go because it’s a Bridgeport institution,” Rivera said. “I just wish they’d change the name of the parade. At it’s base it’s about celebrating Italian culture. Just don’t glorify this sadistic, crazy Columbus.”
Columbus’ critics argue the explorer contributed to the genocide of native Americans.
Meanwhile Madison Avenue, which used to be Bridgeport’s own so-called Little Italy section, lined with Italian-American restaurants, has gradually changed with the evolving demographics of the city.
One of the last such businesses remaining in that neighborhood is Micalizzi’s Italian Ice, owned by Jay Piccirillo, who has also been involved in organizing the parade year after year. Piccirillo on Friday lamented the loss of a local tradition, recalling how his mother would prepare a big family dinner afterward.
“I’m not mad at anybody. They’re both (Caruso and Ganim) doing what they have to,” Piccirillo said, adding that Bridgeport residents should line the streets in Shelton on Oct. 7 along the parade route. “Go along. Support it. Shelton’s a great city. It’s going to be a success.”
Caruso said he is open to returning to Bridgeport to celebrate Columbus Day 2019.
“If the city decides to change it’s policy we’ll definitely consider moving back to Bridgeport,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy decision.”