Revelers outside an East Village bar at last year’s SantaCon (Photo by Allegra Kogan)
By Sabina Mollot
State Senator Brad Hoylman, who has recently called on the mysterious figures behind the ever-growing bar crawl SantaCon to start policing its crowds, said this week he was able to get the group to agree to some of his suggestions on achieving this.
Though the conversation he had with the group was over the phone with individuals who would only identify themselves by first name, Hoylman said it was a positive talk since the group said it would take some concrete steps to keep the event under control.
“We’re reserving our judgment,” said Hoylman on Wednesday, in reference to himself and a coalition of other local politicians who also want to see the mass gathering become less of a disturbance to the neighborhoods it visits.
Last Tuesday, the group penned a letter to urge the anonymous organizers to work with police and community boards on curbing the crowding and rowdy behavior seen at SantaCon events in recent years. SantaCon, an annual event, encourages participants to dress like Santa or other Christmas-themed, and even Hanukkah-themed characters, as they head down a route announced only shortly before the crawl via social media, and hit various pubs along the way. As it’s grown, however, the event has been widely criticized by residents of neighborhoods that are included, due to the crowded sidewalks and the obvious intoxication of participants.
Last December, a Town & Village intern covering the event reported having to dodge male and female Santas yelling, fighting and even puking as they stood waiting to get into various bars or sitting on bus stop benches in the East Village and Union Square. After getting a few photos, the intern, Allegra Kogan, and a friend got into a cab and, before they could exit at Union Square, had the door flung open by more drunken Santas who tried to force their way in.
“Even the cab driver, probably used to New York City antics, looked shocked,” Kogan said.
This year’s SantaCon is set for December 14, with the route so far unannounced.
In their letter, the pols said the route ought be made public in advance to give the NYPD and local businesses time to plan.
“While SantaCon is an open event, the organization still bears ultimate responsibility for its participants,” the letter from the coalition of politicians read. “Every organization must ensure that it is not encouraging lawbreaking, which in this instance includes public consumption of alcohol, public intoxication, public urination, as well as disorderly and overly aggressive behavior.”
Along with Hoylman, others to sign the letter were State Senators Liz Krueger and Daniel Squadron, Assembly Members Brian Kavanagh, Richard Gottfried and Deborah Glick and Council Members Dan Garodnick, Rosie Mendez and Margaret Chin.
Hoylman also noted that in a previous attempt he made to reach out via letter to SantaCon in October, organizers did respond, but it was “in a very cursory manner.”
He added, earlier this week prior to the Tuesday conversation, “They said they were looking at some options to police themselves and work with the NYPD, but it wasn’t sufficient.”
However, after the conversation, Hoylman said volunteers for the group said they would be willing to work with local community boards, precincts and elected officials and let the precincts know the route of the event ahead of time. There will also be volunteers to help maintain crowd control on the sidewalk “as well as weed out the bad actors, or rather the bad Santas,” said Hoylman.
Part of the event’s problem, he was told, was that anyone can participate simply by donning a Santa suit. “So there’s this flash mob mentality.
“At this point we’re reserving our judgment to see whether they follow through on their promises,” he said. “The challenge will be whether they can actually control the people who participate.”
As for the organizers’ decision to withhold their full identities, Hoylman said, “It was the best we could do at this point, so I remain skeptical. Given that they’re a loosely affiliated group of people who want to remain unnamed, we all need to be watchful.”
In November, as T&V reported, police officers from the 13th Precinct announced that they were gearing up for SantaCon, following the unexpectedly large crowds last year.
Prior to the phone call with Hoylman, when asked for comment on the elected officials’ concerns, a spokesperson for SantaCon, who would only identify himself as “Santa” to T&V via email, insisted that the organizers have been trying to be cooperative.
“Once again, SantaCon organizers are in agreement with much of what Senator Hoylman’s office has stated,” the email said.
“We want to return the event to one that values the creative and charitable aspects of SantaCon over the consumption and over-crowding it is known for.
“This year we are reaching out to community boards, police precincts, Parks Departments and governmental agencies to coordinate our event. We plan to remain in contact with them in order to mitigate the negative effects SantaCon may cause on any community it passes though.”
On the event’s website, organizers note that the real purpose of the event is not boozing, but raising money for charity. Last year’s event raised over $45,000 for Toys for Tots and collected 10,000 lbs. of canned food for the Food Bank of New York City. This year, participants are being asked to contribute $10, which will be distributed to several charities.
On the site, “Santa” added that, “Santa agrees that there is no excuse for inappropriate behavior. Public drunkenness, urination or rude behavior is not only prohibited by the stated rules of the event, but actively discouraged by the crowds of Santas themselves, who are for the most part, responsible, creative community-minded New Yorkers.”