- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

The mayor who drew international attention for giving Santa the boot might find coal in her stocking after Monday's Kensington town election.
Residents and business owners this week called the incident which mobilized dozens of protest "Santas" to a December ceremony declared off-limits to the jolly old man "a national embarrassment."
The flap which put Kensington on the map as a place long on political correctness and short on holiday spirit was hard to foresee, folks said after listening to incumbent Lynn Raufaste and challenger Andrea Gill at a town hall forum Tuesday night.
But the strife easily could have been avoided if Mrs. Raufaste had considered residents' suggestions instead of pushing her own solution, said supporters who swarmed Mrs. Gill after she made her pitch for a four-year term as mayor.
"The mayor handled that one badly," said Kerry Thompson, organizer of a "unity circle" to help heal hurt feelings after "hateful" comments showed up on signs and in phone messages after Santa was banned.
Mrs. Gill has not directly mentioned the flap, but she delivers a message of inclusion.
Support for Mrs. Gill at the forum and comment afterward suggest a groundswell that could oust Mrs. Raufaste, who opted to ban St. Nick from the "Holiday Event" rather than let a menorah join a Christmas tree on the town hall lawn.
Mrs. Raufaste contended that the menorah was a religious symbol while Santa and the tree were not, and the Town Council backed her decision. Mrs. Raufaste later relented in the wake of derisive publicity and said Santa could attend.
Yet residents of Kensington, home to many who toil in Washington's policy and political pressure cookers during the week, doesn't take even ho-ho-hos lightly.
The campaign has drawn the attention of former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry, who lent his name and support to a Gill campaign flier, predicting "she will be the kind of mayor that will make everyone feel included in the business of this great little community."
And Harry McPherson, a former White House counsel, said, "Kensington can use some new ideas and creative thinking."
Topics raised during the 95-minute mayoral forum ranged from skateboards to liquor licenses.
But only one question drew a buzz, then a hush, from the crowd of about 100 in the audience: "How can we get past the Santa Claus issue?"
The mayor's response left no doubt she'd like to forget it.
"If we stop dwelling on it and just let it go," Mrs. Raufaste said. "Let's move forward, folks, and put it behind us."
A committee will advise officials on how to deal with Santa and other holiday symbols this year, she reminded residents.
"The mayor again failed to show political and moral leadership on this issue and she failed to give any indication of how she would improve the situation to make all residents feel included," said Karen Libman, who is Jewish and said she wants a menorah but doesn't begrudge Santa.
"As a resident, I think we should celebrate our differences, not deny them," said Mrs. Gill, 42, a real estate agent.
Jennifer Smith a volunteer who organizes the town's two biggest events, a run and the Labor Day parade said Mrs. Raufaste has done a lot for Kensington. Still, she said, many people don't support the incumbent.
"There's definitely a sense among a chunk of the town that this is not a welcoming place when she is mayor," Mrs. Smith said.


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