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Middletown delays setting guidelines for annual Hummer's Parade over concerns about legality

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
Advocates and religious leaders prayed before a packed Town Council meeting in January

Middletown Town Council held off on approving guidelines that could curtail an annual New Year's Day tradition which turned controversial this past January.


The loosely organized Hummer’s Parade in Middletown is known for edgy political satire. The 2019 edition stirred up controversy when several immigration-themed floats were decried as racist.

Mayor Kenneth Branner responded by having a committee develop guidelines for parades permitted in town. But Branner and Town Council voted to table those recommendations Monday over concerns they may violate federal law. 

“I tabled it based on the recommendations of the [Town] Solicitor that the recommendations were possibly in violation of the First  Amendment of the Constitution,” said Branner.

The News Journal reported the committee’s recommendations included bans on costumes featuring the Confederate flag or depicting a specific nationality, as well as costumes offensive to anyone on the basis of characteristics such as race, political viewpoint or religion. 

Middletown resident Debbie Harrington says she’s in favor of strict guidelines — and wants clarity on the future of the Hummer’s Parade.

“The community is concerned [that] the last parade was degrading to a group of people. So that’s my concern— are we saying we’re going to have the parade, or we’re not going to have the parade?” she said. “I want clarity on it.”

Jack Schreppler, who leads the Hummer’s Parade, says he is hoping to get a permit for this January. He said Monday he has outstanding questions and concerns about the process of developing the guidelines, but declined to elaborate. 

Branner says he and Council will seek further guidance from the Town Solicitor, then look to approve a modified version of the committee’s guidelines on Dec.18. He said at Town Council Monday the Town usually approves a permit for a parade one week in advance. 

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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