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Sacked Santa saved

Monday, November 7, 2011 - 11:32am

A New York politician has ensured that Santa won't get a pink slip this Christmas.

Officials say there is no money in the budget to pay a man $660 for playing Santa at a general store run by Suffolk County.

David McKell has played Santa for nine years at the St. James General Store, which gets decorated like Santa's workshop.

The retired police detective lieutenant and former state trooper sits in a rocking chair in the back, handing out candy canes and posing for photos with children.

"It was a short-sighted decision," McKell said.

Officials had been looking for volunteers to take shifts.

Even the county executive, Steve Levy, has volunteered to wear the suit for a few hours.

After the story was reported Friday, a Democrat running for county executive held a press conference in front of the store, announcing he would personally pay for Santa's salary, indicating that McKell would be able to work the holiday after all.

"This is personal, not political," said Steve Bellone. "Politics ends at the North Pole. This is about all the kids of this county and my own kids getting a chance to come here."

Bellone's Republican opponent Angie Carpenter called it a "cheap political stunt," and Levy also questioned why anyone would spend the money if the county could get a volunteer.

Some say the county took financial discipline a bit too far by firing Santa.

The county is already considering layoffs for 750 employees to help close an estimated $135 million budget gap.

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