Not even a visit to Santa is apolitical anymore.
A man who played Santa Claus at a Florida mall has been removed after reportedly telling a child sitting on his lap that Hillary Clinton was on his “naughty list.”
The incident took place last week at Seminole Towne Center in Sanford, Fla., about 25 miles northeast of Orlando.
According to CBS affiliate WKMG, a local woman had taken her two children to the mall to see Santa, a holiday tradition for many families in America.
The woman’s 4-year-old child posed first with Saint Nick, and then her 10-year-old daughter sat on the mall Santa’s lap, according to a WKMG screen shot of one of the woman’s Facebook posts.
“She tells Santa what she wants, and then he tells her she’s on the nice list,” the Facebook post read. “He then says that there’s only one name on the naughty list. Can you guess who? My daughter says who? And he says Hillary Clinton and then started laughing.”
The woman, who identified herself as a Clinton supporter, wrote that she quickly left with her kids.
“I’m upset because this had nothing to do with a child and seeing Santa, and at age 10 she still believes,” the woman wrote.
The news station did not name the woman but reported that she complained to Seminole Towne Center officials. Those officials told her that the man who played Santa at the mall was an employee of a third-party vendor.
According to the woman’s Facebook post, the Seminole Towne Center manager reached out to her to say the mall did not condone Santa’s behavior.
Seminole Towne Center representatives did not respond to an interview request Monday. But on Friday, the mall released a statement noting that the Santa was employed by an outside company and had since been relocated.
“The Santa referenced in recent reports is still employed by the Santa vendor, in a different location,” the statement read in part. “Santa was given additional training to ensure that he remains in the character of Santa during all future appearances. Santa is a symbol of peace, joy and goodwill for all and we are pleased that we are able to bring this cherished symbol to the communities we serve.”
Colorado-based Noerr Programs Corp., which provided the Santa to the Sanford mall, did not respond to a request for comment. But Noerr released a statement Saturday that echoed the mall’s statement, nearly verbatim. Noerr did not name the man who played the controversy-causing Santa.
According to its website, Noerr Programs “serves 3.5 million visitors each year in malls across the nation” through its seasonal photo-op programs with people who play Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. It prides itself on working year-round to recruit “naturally bearded” Santas.
“But a genuine beard is not enough. Santas must have a big heart to match,” the website says. “ . . . Noerr Santas have big boots to fill!”