Mayor Dawn Zimmer knows her decision to move Hoboken’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade from a Saturday to a Wednesday in 2012 won’t please everyone – and the partying crowd may still flock to Hoboken on one weekend next March, especially since St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Saturday next year.
But the city had to do something after police responded to two alleged rapes, arrested 34 people, and issued 296 summonses last weekend. Hoboken’s parade, which is held earlier than others each year in order to get the best marching bands, has become in recent years a focal point for young people to come to the mile-square city for house parties and bars.
Zimmer announced at a press conference on Tuesday that the city will move the parade to a Wednesday afternoon next year.
“I recognize that it’s obviously a tradition that’s gone on for 25 years and it’s important for the city,” Zimmer said in an interview the next day. “What I’m trying to do is reclaim the parade. We want to make sure it’s about the city’s Irish heritage, not about what happens afterwards.”
Zimmer said the reactions have been mixed, but said most of the e-mails from residents thanked her.
“I’ve received e-mails saying ‘Thank you; you’re the first person to stand up for our town to make this decision,” she said. “Then there are the people that are infuriated with me that I didn’t cancel [the parade].”
“I’m usually just glad when it’s over.” – Downtown bartender
“We want to make sure we have people coming to Hoboken 365 days a year, not just one,” she said. “If our town is just known for this one day, it’s going to hurt business.”
Considering that Hoboken is a mile-square, walkable city with more than 130 liquor licenses and lots of public transportation, it became an easy target for people wanting to party.
Reporters from CBS, NBC, ABC, and MY9 descended upon City Hall to cover the press conference on Tuesday. The city’s celebration also received attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the popular gossip blog Gawker.
Zimmer said ultimately the decision to move the parade was made to “provide safety for residents and visitors.”
She said on Wednesday that she hadn’t spoken with bar owners, but planned to meet with them on Friday.
Could still happen
Zimmer said she is aware that bar owners may still try to attract the thousands of partiers on the original date despite the change for the parade.
“I hope they’re not going to try and encourage this to still be a rowdy weekend, but that is a possibility,” she said.
One downtown bartender said it’s too soon to tell if they would organize events on the first Saturday of March 2012.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen next year [on the first Saturday], and will have to plan accordingly and have security in place,” Zimmer said.
The bar community will be affected the most by the change.
Bars and pubs across the city which usually do not enforce “cover charges” implement them for the Hoboken parade day, and the prices range from anywhere between $10 and $40 just to enter an establishment. Many in the bar industry refer to the annual Hoboken parade as their own Black Friday.
Currently, bars are legally allowed to open at 6 a.m., according to the city’s code. For Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day, the city usually amends the opening time to 9 a.m.
Amanda Sherman is a bartender at McSwiggan’s Pub. She said she was “shocked” when she heard the parade would change to a Wednesday.
“It’s going to hurt business big time,” she said.
Sherman said she anticipates a “major uprising” in response to Zimmer’s decision.
One downtown bar owner said, “That’s like moving the Kentucky Derby from the first Saturday in May to a Wednesday.”
Cherie DePalma, a bartender at 1Republik, thinks the move is a “bad idea.”
“Saturday’s are much easier for people to come out because they don’t have work,” DePalma said. “I didn’t think it was that bad this year. I don’t think we had one fight all day.”
But not all bartenders love the parade and the celebration that follows.
“I don’t know if it’s going to make a difference what day it’s on,” said a bartender at a downtown Washington Street establishment who worked on March 5. The bartender did not wish to be identified because he said he “didn’t have anything nice to say about the parade day.”
“It’s a tough day to work,” he said. “It’s a really long day. You have to be on top of your game as far as precautionary measures with drunk people, and it’s not a very fun crowd to bartend for. I’m usually just glad when it’s over.”
Catherine O’Brien, a former longtime Hoboken resident who still works in the mile-square city, said the parade’s attractiveness to Irish bands might suffer with the date change.
“There are only so many bands [for the parades], which is why the parades in the area are scheduled the way they are,” O’Brien said.
A call to Bill Coughlin, a spokesperson for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, which organizes the parade every year, was not returned by press time Friday.
Politicos: Good decision
Although the decision may split the residents and merchants, council members in this municipal election year seem to agree with Zimmer’s decision. Officials on both sides of the political aisle congratulated the mayor, and politicos jumped to announce their involvement in the decision.
Councilman Peter Cunningham, an ally of the mayor, said he has been collaborating with Zimmer since Monday.
“A Wednesday helps preserve the parade celebrating Irish American heritage while maintaining civility in Hoboken,” Cunningham said in a statement.
Councilwoman Theresa Castellano, who sits opposite the mayor in Hoboken’s divided political spectrum, hopes more will be done to restrict the partying.
“Anything is better than what we have now,” Castellano said last week in the office of City Discount, her Washington Street clothing store. “It’s a good first step.”
Castellano said this year she closed City Discount and hired four people to watch over her store last Saturday.
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By the numbers
The number of arrests on the day of the Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day Parade rose by nine from last year, but the amount of other incidents decreased dramatically. However, two rape allegations brought the city more unwanted attention this year.
The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office confirmed last week that an investigation is underway in Hoboken into one of the alleged incidents.
First Assistant Prosecutor Debbie Simon said Monday that a 23-year-old woman reported she was “taken to a location and raped.” The matter is still under investigation.
A separate alleged incident was reported “late Friday night into the early morning hours on Saturday [March 5].” However, the victim did not wish to pursue charges.
The city had a total of 219 law enforcement officers on duty on Saturday, with many of the 112 on duty Hoboken Police Department officers working 16-hour shifts. The city also hired 77 officers from the Hudson County Rapid Deployment Department and 30 officers from the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office. Zimmer also said officers from New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority assisted Hoboken. The officers were paid for out of the city’s budget.
Police responded to 470 calls for service during the 2011 parade, which was down from 717 in 2010. The total city summonses also decreased from 555 to 296.
Partygoers were threatened with a $2,000 fine and the threat of community service for open containers and public drunkenness. A judge will ultimately determine the punishment for each offender. – RS Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com