City officials staying away from Concord Christmas Parade over ‘racist’ remarks

  • Santa makes an appearance during the annual Christmas Parade in Concord on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 11/14/2018 6:51:40 PM

Santa Claus will be at Saturday’s Concord Christmas Parade on the Heights, but Mayor Jim Bouley will be staying away, citing “racist” comments made by the organizer during election season.

Bouley and several city councilors said they will not walk in the parade due to comments made by state Rep. Dick Patten, who organizes the parade as well as several other community events, like Christmas tree lightings and Easter egg hunts.

Patten lost the Democratic primary for state representative to Safiya Wazir, a 27-year-old mother of two who is a former refugee from Afghanistan. Wazir went on to win the general election and will be representing the ward in the State House next year.

“A lot has been promised to minorities,” Patten, a lifelong resident of the Heights neighborhood, told the Monitor during the Sept. 11 primary. “A lot of out-of-Concord people are getting everything.”

After he lost, Patten told the Boston Globe that Wazir was “treated like the princess” because she was from Afghanistan and questioned whether she would be able to hold office while pregnant with her third child.

Bouley compared Patten’s comments to an incident that occurred in the city’s South side back in 2011 and 2012 when a Pembroke man scrawled racist graffiti on the homes of four African refugee families. Those messages included phrases like “go back to your hell and leave us alone.”

“When I see someone who says things much like the things said on the walls of that house, it’s racists, it’s hateful, and there’s no place for it,” Bouley said.

The city’s annual Multicultural Festival participants were originally planning to participate in the parade for the first time this year as a way to promote their mission of spreading appreciation for diversity and empowering New Americans to get involved in their communities, but the group has since backed out after a conversation with Patten this week “made them feel unwelcome,” organizer Jessica Livingston said.

“We believe that immigrants, refugees, people from diverse backgrounds and from all walks of life enrich our community in many ways, and there is no place for intolerance or racism in our community,” she wrote in an email.

“Despite the contentious atmosphere surrounding the parade’s organizer during the midterm elections, we decided to peacefully participate in the Concord Christmas Parade to showcase the growing diversity here in our community in a positive light,” the statement read.

Patten is integral to the parade. Now in its 67th year, he’s been organizing it through the Concord Grange #322 for the last 48 years. He said it’s one of the few long-running traditions in Concord that hasn’t disappeared due to a lack of volunteers or cost.

Patten said anyone is welcome to participate in the holiday tradition, including Multicultural Festival participants, as long they recognize the parade for what it is.

“We are all there for one big reason – to welcome Santa,” he said. “That’s what it is, it’s welcoming the Christmas season.”

Patten said Wednesday he was unaware that city officials were choosing not to participate because of his comments.

“It’s up to anybody what they want to do,” Patten said. “It’s not a political rally, it’s a parade to welcome in the holiday season. The guest of honor is Santa Claus, not the mayor.”

Patten said their actions will have little impact on the parade. It will be bigger than ever this year, with more than 100 organizations.

“We never invited any city councilor to come to the parade,” Patten said. “They always come. They don’t need an invitation.”

Most councilors said they try to participate in the parade when they can.

Councilor Byron Champlin said Patten’s comments were “contrary to the vast Judeo-Christian tradition of acceptance of welcoming foreigners.”

“It’s such a disconnect,” he said. “What ever happened to peace on Earth and goodwill toward men?”

Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton said Patten’s comments were not representative of the Concord community.

“I cannot participate in an event that is lead by an individual who does not honor diversity and inclusion in our community,” she wrote in an email. “I look forward to working with the greater Concord community to build a truly inclusive holiday event next year.”

Bouley said he thought someone else was going to organize the parade this year, but made his decision to skip after he learned that Patten was again at the helm. Bouley said the city has taken several steps, including adopting a resolution establishing Concord as a “welcoming community,” to promote inclusion.

Other councilors, including Steve Shurtleff, Mark Coen and Candace Bouchard said they will be unable to attend. Shurtleff and Bouchard both said they had prior engagements; Coen cited problems with his knee.

All three said they support the parade but found Patten’s comments to be unfortunate.

“The parade is fun and great,” said Bouchard, who represents part of the Heights in Ward 9. “I have nothing against the parade, but I wanted to make sure that if I was in it, I would not be associated with those comments.”

Bouchard said she would have marched with any New Americans who would have participated in the parade. She said many of her constituents are immigrants and refugees and she tries to treat them all fairly.

“My belief is that everyone here moved up here and came to Concord because they want to live in a safe community,” she said. “They have a belief in the American dream, they want their kids to do well. It’s what we all want, we all have the same common goals.”

Councilor Rob Werner said he was unsure if he would be able to march in the parade, but said he would if his schedule allowed it. He said any participation was not an endorsement of Patten’s comments, which he called “racist.”

“I think the parade is bigger than that,” he said. “I think we’re a bigger community than that.”

The Monitor reached out to all other members of the council by phone and email, but did not reach all of them by press time.

Patten said he regrets his comments and has apologized to Wazir. The time since the election and the media coverage has been difficult for him, he said.

“I don’t intentionally insult anybody and if I have, I’m sorry,” he said.

After this year, Patten says he’s stepping away from the parade and hopes someone else will carry on it’s legacy and keep it on the Heights.

“I’ve been so active on the Heights, and I care about people no matter what their race,” he said. “I’ve lived here all my life.”

(Jonathan Van Fleet contributed to this report.)

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