PATERSON, NJ – Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly said he has raised more than $40,000 in private donations to cover the cost of Sunday’s parade to celebrate Paterson’s hometown Super Bowl hero, Victor Cruz.
Mayor Jeffrey Jones said the private contributions were necessary because the city government and its taxpayers could not afford to pick up the tab for the parade. In fact, the state on Tuesday sent Paterson a letter advising city officials to cancel all parades to avoid the overtime expense for police officers and public works employees.
Wimberly said in an interview on Wednesday that it wasn’t hard to sell local business leaders on the benefits of the parade to Paterson’s economy. “It’s going to bring 20,000 people to downtown Paterson,’’ said Wimberly. “It’s going to be an economic injection for the city. Our downtown will be crowded on Sunday and that’s a good thing.’’
Wimberly, a former city councilman, estimated the parade will cost between $40,000 and $50,000. The Assemblyman, who was Cruz’ high school football coach at Paterson Catholic, said he would have a full list of the private contributors by Friday.
The cost of city parades has been a highly-charged public issue during the past year. In 2011, while grappling with ongoing fiscal crisis, city officials began asking private groups that run parades to pay for their expenses. That prompted Turkish, Peruvian, African-American and Puerto Rican community groups to cancel or relocate their parades. Representatives of the private parades said the city had asked for as much as $100,000 in fees.
But the leaders of the annual Dominican parade challenged the city’s policy in federal court and forced municipal officials to allow the parade to go on without them paying any fees. City officials have been attempting to craft an ordinance on parade fees, but so far have not come up with a version for a city council vote.
In discussing Sunday’s event for Cruz, Jones was careful about the words he used. “We’re not calling it a parade, we’re calling it a celebration,’’ the mayor said.
It’s a celebration that will begin at 2 pm at the Great Falls, move along Spruce Street, continue down Market Street and end at City Hall. To most people, it will look pretty much like a parade. But Jones said he doesn’t want people to get the idea that it’s “open season” for parades in Paterson.
“I’m trying not to encourage parades because we can’t afford them,’’ Jones said. In fact, the mayor said he was concerned that extra publicity about the parade will attract more people and possibly drive up the costs.
For now, Wimberly is guessing that about 20,000 people will show up. But, he admits, his track record in projecting crowd numbers has not been as good as his football coaching record. In January, when Paterson staged a pep rally for Cruz on the weekend before the Super Bowl, Wimberly figured that about 1,000 would show up at School 21. Instead, more than 4,000 fans were there, overwhelming preparations for the event.
Wimberly said he didn’t want the city’s fiscal problems to stand in the way of the Cruz parade. “We need good news,’’ the assemblyman said. “We need to have a celebration when a kid from the 4th Ward makes it.’’
In modern times, Paterson has held two other parades for individual hometown celebrities – one for comedian Lou Costello and another for baseball star and trailblazer Larry Doby after his Cleveland Indians won the World Series, according to officials.
“The city deserves to celebrate one of its own,’’ Jones said.