In the war over the Raleigh Christmas Parade, even Santa must choose sides

The first casualty in the local war over the Raleigh Christmas Parade seems to be Santa himself.

Ron Campbell, who has served as Santa’s stand-in for the parade for the past several years, quit this week after appearing in a commercial for WRAL.

WRAL had sponsored the downtown Raleigh parade for the past 43 years, but this year’s contract was awarded to the station’s broadcast rival, WTVD. The contracts are awarded by the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association, which puts on the parade through its Shop Local Raleigh initiative.

Despite losing the contract, WRAL has announced its intentions to broadcast the parade anyway. That’s when the trouble started.

WRAL enlisted Campbell to film a 15-second spot announcing the station’s intention to broadcast the parade. Campbell also was scheduled to be the Santa used in the Nov. 18 parade.

But Jennifer Martin, executive director of GRMA, said all parties involved had been asked not to talk to other media prior to Monday’s announcement of the new sponsor. Campbell was contacted by WRAL on Friday and filmed the spot. After a conversation with Martin, Campbell later resigned.

“It’s unfortunate, but we’ve hired a new Santa,” she said.

Campbell said he was taking advantage of a chance to promote the parade.

“I’ve been involved with the parade for years and years and was so surprised to see anybody say not to make a video or something that would promote for the community the Christmas parade in four weeks,” Campbell said on Monday. “I made it and was told to demand it be taken down by WRAL and I said, ‘Hmmm, what have I stepped into? I don’t have time for this.’

“Santa is above politics, and I chose not to participate.”

Campbell, a self-described “passionate” advocate for the parade, said it doesn’t matter who plays Santa, only that he’s there for the kids.

“Santa is always going to be there. Years and years from now, people will come and go, but Santa will always be in the parade.”

Brooke Cain: 919-829-4579, @brookecain

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