KIRKLAND, Wash. - Fred Herzberg says he's never had any problems playing Santa for the past 30 years until Sunday, when he was asked to leave Winterfest in downtown Kirkland.
"I sat on the park bench near the Christmas tree, and people were coming up and wanted their pictures taken with their children. It's' good for them. Makes me feel good," said Herzberg ,who lives within walking distance from Marina Park where Winterfest was held.
He said soon after arriving, an organizer politely asked him to leave.
"Wow. OK, I thought this was a public park, but I wasn't about to do a confrontation with all these kids around Santa Claus. Arguing with a young woman doesn't leave a very good impression, so I didn’t," said Herzberg.
The Executive Director of the Kirkland Downtown Association said that Winterfest hired a Santa that was offering pictures with kids for $10.
"It made me feel very strange. This is Christmas. This is small town values that we're trying to engender here. It has nothing to do with commercialism," said Herzberg.
Bruce Wynn of the Kirkland Downtown Association added that the Santa they hired had also cleared a criminal background check.
Herzberg said he contacted the Kirkland Downtown Association ahead of Winterfest, but never heard back.
He says he also plays Santa at other community events and nursing homes and has never had any problems in the past.
But Wynn insists that the decision to ask Herzberg to leave was purely out of safety for the children.
The Kirkland Downtown Association had permits to reserve the park for Winterfest. But the city said there were no restrictions from the general public attending.
Wynn said that Herzberg was not a member of the general public because he was actively engaging as Santa.
Herzberg said he's willing to work with the city and organizers so he can play Santa at Winterfest next year.
"I sent a letter to the city and to the sponsors and told the story and said, 'How come this happened? Let's not let this happen again,'" said Herzberg.