Late-summer word: Santa to return to St. James store

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David McKell will return as the St. James David McKell will return as the St. James Post Office Santa, this time on the county's dime. Photo Credit: John Dunn

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Despite Suffolk’s ongoing budget woes, County Executive Steve Bellone at least has the money to hire back Santa Claus at the St. James General Store this December using county funds -- not his own checkbook.

Bellone aides say the county parks department has already sent out a contract to bring back David McKell, 84, to continue to play St. Nick as he has for the past decade.

The St. James Santa became a cause celebre four days before last year’s election when Bellone, then a candidate for county executive, paid $660 from personal funds to keep Santa on the job  weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas at the historic 1857 store after he budget office of former County Executive Steve Levy fired him.

Ironically, it was Bellone’s wife, Tracy, former deputy parks commissioner, who first raised the issue with the Levy budget office last September, whether they wanted to to keep Santa on the job in light of the county’s fiscal straits.

McKell, a retired state trooper, said he hasn’t received the contract yet, but is happy he’ll be back minus last year’s controversy. “It’s a wonderful experience for the kids,” he said, “There no push to buy like there is at department stores, it’s just nice and homey and looks like Santa’s workshop.”

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