The organizer of the Concord Christmas parade said he’s not a racist, and it bothers him that Mayor Jim Bouley and other city politicians are citing his past remarks to decide to not march in the parade.
“I’m far from a racist. I’m not a bad person,” Richard Patten said, noting his role as a one-time bell ringer for the Salvation Army, a host of foreign exchange students, a three-decade career as a police dispatcher and leader in the Concord Grange, which has put on the parade for the past 48 years.
On Thursday, Bouley told the Concord Monitor he would not walk in the parade, which is scheduled for this Saturday, accusing Patten of making racist remarks. Bouley did not respond to email and telephone messages from the Union Leader.
Patten’s trouble stems from remarks he made in September to the Concord Monitor. He said “a lot has been promised to minorities,” and “a lot of out-of-Concord people are getting everything.”
The four-term state representative said he was very upset that day that he lost the Democratic primary to Safiya Wazir, a 27-year-old mother of two who was elected last week to the New Hampshire House.
Wazir is a refugee from Afghanistan and one of the stars of the freshmen House members. Patten campaigned on behalf of Wazir’s opponent after losing the primary.
“I have apologized, and I told her in an email I’d be happy to help her and answer any questions,” said Patten.
Wazir said she will not attend the parade after bringing her children for the past six years.
“Unfortunately this year I will not be going, due to the racist comments and bigotry,” Wazir said. “I think everyone who stood up to stand against this is incredible. We need to welcome our immigrants and include everyone. We have to consider that this parade means everyone is watching. It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim or anything.”
She noted her daughter had looked forward to attending the parade, but she will take her to other parades.
Fellow Concord Rep. Kristina Schultz said Patten should apologize to the community. Schultz is also boycotting the parade.
“I’m proud the mayor and other folks have stepped forward to support Safiya and the community. It’s the right thing to do, “ Schultz aid.
Also not participating is the Concord Multicultural Festival.
In a message posted Thursday on its Facebook page, the organization said it had planned to participate in the parade, despite the contentious atmosphere surrounding Patten.
“However, after a private conversation with the group’s organizer, we have decided to not participate in the parade this year. We were left with the clear impression that there are still many misconceptions about our new American neighbors, and that we still have much work to do too,” the organization said.
In an interview, Patten said his handicapped sister struggled for years to get into appropriate housing. She moved into subsidized housing, and some of the residents drive cars, he said.
“Yet the homeless are sleeping in woods in tents,” he said.
Patten, who is 66, said it becomes harder every year for the 20 active Concord Grange members to put on the parade. He said he’s always been a supporter of Bouley.
“Politics shouldn’t be in this at all,” he said.