Updated 6:47 p.m.
The tree was lit, people gathered, and sang carols by the Arch last night as the 89th Annual Tree Lighting ceremony at Washington Square took place. The event is hosted by neighborhood group, the Washington Square Association, and it was a bit different than the last few years that I’ve attended. Last year (and previous years), Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro attended and sang on the stage as did Washington Square Association President Anne-Marie Sumner. This year, not only did Bill Castro not sing, he was not there at all! Sumner stayed in the background.
Also not present was Washington Square Park Administrator Sarah Neilson (a city Parks Department employee and presently “Executive Director” of the “newly formed” Washington Sq Park Conservancy) nor any of the Washington Square Park Conservancy founders. (Were they perhaps hiding after the latest revelations as well as the “hot dog” hoopla?) First Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanaugh was there representing the Parks Department (but many people in the neighborhood do not know him). I saw Sharon Woolums, a “public member” of Community Board 2′s Parks Committee. C.B. 2 District Manager Bob Gormley was in the crowd, singing and being jovial.
The event started with words (very brief) by Washington Square Association’s Anne-Marie Sumner and led quickly to a count down by a group of children in the front row, and the tree was lit! The ceremony went right into carols with music by the Rob Susman Quartet. Many of the songs are sung in a truncated manner – portions of the songs versus the entire song – which is how it’s been for at least the last five years. According to some Villagers who attended the ceremony some years ago, a student jazz band used to be part of the ceremony. Not any more. The lights on the tree had been red for many years and were changed to white this year (I was not the only person who noted this!) — perhaps the Washington Square Association wanted to switch it up a little. But it all felt a little deflated.
In addition, there was some problem with the lights by the Arch so everything was darker than usual.
Some wonder if the Washington Square Association is consolidating into the Washington Square Park Conservancy with two members of their Board (Washington Square Association Chair Douglas Evans and Vice President Emily Kies Folpe) “recently” being added to the Conservancy Board. (Actually, Evans came before C.B. 2 in support of the Conservancy, but, even at that point, he knew he would be added to the Board at a later date, according to documents Washington Square Park Blog has obtained.*) Neighborhood restauranteur Mario Batali
had been on the Washington Square Association Board for a long time – it’s unclear if he still is, he is no longer listed on the organization web site - he (Wash Sq Assoc. says he was not on their Board … I always was under impression that he was.) has also recently been added to the controversial Washington Square Park Conservancy Board. What went on behind-the-scenes to get the Washington Square Association to support this private conservancy, which they knew the community very clearly did not want?
More holiday events upcoming at Washington Square Park:
Independent caroling event led by Terre Roche and Barbara Morillo at the Park Friday, December 20th at 6 p.m.
The Washington Square Association sponsors caroling Christmas Eve, Tuesday, December 24th at 5 p.m.
Both under the Arch.
* More coming next on documents and what they reveal.