A life-size Christmas creche will remain in front of Olean City Hall -- even if aldermen call for its removal and even if it makes non-Christians feel uncomfortable.
That's the decision of Mayor David Carucci, who defended the creche during a meeting called in the aftermath of residents' complaints.
Carucci said he gave permission six months ago to set up the display. He also declined to say who is responsible for the display, despite repeated requests.
"I will never say who put it there," he said. "As of right now, today, it stays."
More than 50 people, including Christian clerics from some of the city's largest churches, showed up for a question-and answer session Tuesday night to discuss the display.
Many urged that the creche be relocated and a committee be created to establish policy on religious displays on city property. Aldermen said they learned about the creche only when they they received phone calls from residents Saturday and Sunday. Several aldermen said they would like to see the display relocated.
The creche was put up Saturday in a pocket park in front of City Hall. The board-and-batten enclosure is mounted on a dual-axle trailer. The life-size Nativity figures are behind plexiglass, with a door on the end of the structure padlocked.
Common Council President Ray Wangelin said he plans to meet with Carucci to discuss forming a committee and removing the creche temporarily.
Wangelin pointed to the views of some protesting the creche, including businessman Mike Blumenthal, who recalled religious persecution as a boy growing up Jewish in the city.
He said this is a compelling reason "we need to resolve it."
The problem is not new to the city.
Carucci fielded complaints in 2006, when he allowed smaller religious figures to be placed under a Christmas tree in the City Hall lobby. While some observers say a 1995 Common Council decision bans religious displays in city parks, others say no decision was made, and Carucci maintains there is nothing that would legally bar the display.
Marcia Storch, a member of an Olean interfaith group called United Faith Communities, said that the creche appears to belong to the city because it lacks a sign stating the name of its donor.
Maureen Burniss told Carucci the creche is a mistake.
"You are a municipal government, and you suggest you are influenced by special interests," she said. "You cannot afford to give that impression. You have to remain neutral to all of your constituents."