WEST SIDE (PIX11) – It’s a tradition dating back to 1984, and involves thousands of New Yorkers and visitors from all over the world. This year, however, Fleet Week will barely take place, if it takes place at all. The federal sequester in Washington is to blame. The budget slashing program intended to reduce the deficit is designed to save the country money, but the arithmetic and emotions involved in the scaling back of Fleet Week show that it may not be worth it.
Bringing to New York the 6,000 sailors, marines, Coast Guard members and other uniformed servicemen and -women from the U.S. and other countries costs taxpayers $7 – 10 million, according to the U.S. Navy. However, the New York City Council estimates that the local economy benefits by tens of millions of dollars — many times more money that not only comes back to taxpayers, but it also gets taxed again, further raising revenues.
The sequester is the result of the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) signed into law by President Barack Obama. The BCA stipulated that if members of Congress could not agree on raising the country’s debt ceiling, or to agree on budget cuts that would prevent the country from reaching its debt ceiling, automatic cuts would take effect. Military programs deemed not essential to military missions were included in the cuts. Fleet Week fit that category.
The six-day event that dates back 29 years usually brings a flotilla of military vessels from the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, as well as the navies of other nations. None of those ships will be able to come this year, but officially, the event is still underway.
“There’s no Fleet Week without a fleet,” said J. Robert Lunney, president of the Navy League’s New York Council, “So I don’t imagine there’ll be much activity.”
His group is one of the main organizers of Fleet Week activities, and Lunney is himself a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral and veteran of two wars. He told PIX11 News that the severe scaling back of Fleet Week is a major loss for everyone.
“It has an effect on the economy of New York, but our main focus is on the men and women serving on board [the ships],” Lunney said. “We’re very disappointed and very distressed,” he said, “especially because this would upset the sailors and their families.”
Both sailors and families, as well as residents and tourists, spend money during the days of the event. Some of that spending translates into rest, relaxation and recreation for service members under stress from the ongoing war and other requirements of duty.
It can also translate into support for those service members, as the owner of a bar near the USS Intrepid, where many of the Fleet Week ships usually dock, pointed out. Tom Hummel operates the bar at the Landmark Tavern, on 11th Avenue and 47th Street, the fourth oldest pub in New York City. He said the loss of Fleet Week would be a loss of something deep and meaningful for both uniformed service members and for the people who show their appreciation to them during the event.
“I’ve got a full bar of customers,” Hummel told PIX11 News, “and somebody will get up from their table and say, ‘Their check’s on me.’ It’s never showy, always humble. That will be lost.”
The New York Council of the Navy League intends to proceed with its plans to hold its main fundraiser for Fleet Week. The gala dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel next Thursday will have have NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, himself a former Marine, as its guest of honor. On Friday afternoon, the commissioner said that he hopes there is some way for Fleet Week to go forward.
It will. A search on the event’s official website, http://www.fleetweeknewyork.com/fleetweeknewyork/, shows that the event is still on schedule. However, a click on the schedule of events comes up empty.