Finizio says organizers of annual Irish parade 'playing politics'

Ben Shafer, left, and Derron Wood of Flock Theatre walk on stilts as they march in the 2011 New London Irish Parade along State Street.
Ben Shafer, left, and Derron Wood of Flock Theatre walk on stilts as they march in the 2011 New London Irish Parade along State Street.

New London - Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, a sponsor of the New London Irish Parade in 2011 and a co-grand marshal in 2012, accused New London Irish Parade Inc. of playing politics when it announced Tuesday it was leaving the city.

"The fact that this came so suddenly and without warning, and the fact that it was written by a political columnist, is a clear sign this was a political hit,'' Finizio said Wednesday, after reading a column by David Collins in The Day. "And I will not let it stand."

Marie Friess-McSparran, president of the parade committee, told Collins Tuesday that the committee voted to move the parade out of New London because the organization and city administration have been unable to come to terms over how much the city would charge for police and public works services.

But Finizio said he wants the March 16 parade in New London and has been working with the committee to try to keep costs down. In email exchanges between the administration and the committee, the city has said it would have to charge around $7,500 for its services.

"It is truly distressing that some members of the committee are playing politics,'' Finizio said. "We're willing to be reasonable, and I felt that we were working very productively. I was flabbergasted when I read the column. Obviously this was a political attack."

Friess-McSparran, a city councilor who supported Finizio's opponent in last year's mayoral race, said the group's unanimous decision to move the event out of the city was financial and not political.

The community the group is talking to about possibly hosting the parade will charge less than half of what New London intends to charge, she said.

"It's unfortunate. All we've done is try to bring a first-class event to New London, and it has been difficult for us to do that,'' Friess-McSparran said. "I don't know what the hesitation is in the administration to not work with us, but I can assure you, this is not cooperative."

In a letter to the city, committee Vice Chairman Richard Mastrandrea said the group could allocate $7,500 toward police and public works services for the parade.

Under an executive order Finizio issued earlier this year, the city will not give out special event permits until a cost estimate for city services is paid in full.

But the city has been vague about providing an exact number, Friess-McSparran said. The committee needs to know the costs so it can start fundraising. It needs the permit so it can get insurance.

"All I know is that in June, four months ago, the committee put in an application for a permit, and we don't have it yet. It's frustrating,'' she said of the committee. "We're a business. We may be a 501(c)(3), but we're also a business. And no business would operate on 'It's about this. It's maybe that. It's around this.'"

Finizio said Wednesday the two sides had been working out a deal and the committee was told it would costs $6,500 for police and $1,500 for public works.

"We were also willing to work with them, and if it was under, we would refund them, and if it was over, as long as it wasn't a large number, the city could absorb incidental costs,'' he said.

Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard said in an email to the committee that $6,500 would provide for three supervisors, 12 officers and five vehicles for the day of the parade. But he added that the costs are estimates and that final costs would be firmed up a few days before the event.

"This is the minimum this bill would be at present time," he added in the Sept. 21 email.

Tim Hanser, public works director, said in a Sept. 26 email that the lowest amount the city could charge is $1,500.

McSparran said she is not sure the two sides can work out an agreement.

"I don't want to say there's no possibility, but the frustration level at this point is extremely high,'' she said.


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