Whitney Houston’s death continues to generate headaches for New Jersey’s leading politicans. First, Governor Chris Christie was criticized for lowering the flags at state government buildings to half-staff to honor the late singer. Now, some Newark residents are unhappy that Whitney Houston’s February funeral cost the city more than $187,000 in police overtime. The figure equals roughly 5 percent of Newark’s annual police overtime budget ($4 million), reports CBS New York.
EW reached out to Newark mayor Cory Booker’s office, who said, though no formal complaint has been lodged, it’s incumbent upon him to exercise caution at such ceremonies. “As with any major event, and Ms. Houston’s funeral was an international event, our police department’s priority is to keep both citizens and visitors alike safe when they come to our city,” said Booker’s communication director Anne Torres.
Democratic councilwoman Mildred Crump agreed, telling CBS, “I was able to be witness to the thousands upon thousands of people who were desperate to attend [Houston’s] service but held back by barriers and officers of the law. If they had not been there someone may have been trampled, seriously hurt.”
Indeed, for such a large-scale event as Houston’s funeral, the costs (beyond what the celebrity’s estate covers*) quickly move from intangible – crowd control, safety, security – to tangible, life-threatening even. It’s hardly the first time a departed celebrity has cost a city some cash.
Most recently, Michael Jackson’s 2009 funeral in Los Angeles ran up a $1.4 million municipal tab that included the labor of 1,400 police officers, plus sanitation and traffic control workers. (This cost was in addition to the $855,730.31 bill paid by the Jackson estate for interment, mausoleum upkeep, private security, lighting, decor, and wardrobe.) The event drew 31 million viewers around the world, plus an anticipated 750,000 mourners at L.A.’s Staples Center. Despite setting up a private website where fan donations could defray the cost, city authorities later admitted they would not allow a private event to be funded publicly again.
Plenty of other high-profile funerals have served as cautionary tales that perhaps Mayor Booker and his administration were heeding. The Brooklyn 1997 funeral for the Notorious B.I.G. created a controversy for then-mayor of New York City Rudolph Giuliani when a scuffle broke out during the funeral procession, resulting in 10 of the 1,000-plus mourners getting arrested – including a New York Times reporter. Likewise, Rudolph Valentino’s 1926 funeral reportedly devolved into a riotous mob scene where despondent fans publicly committed suicide.
On the flip side, President Jimmy Carter reportedly deployed 300 National Guardsman for Elvis Presley’s funeral in 1977. Even with an attendance of 80,000 grieving attendees, the procession was carried out with relative peace and respect.
What do you think, PopWatchers? Yoko Ono famously skipped the pomp and ceremony altogether, urging fans to partake in a global moment of silence following John Lennon’s December 1980 murder. Might the cheapest and simplest answer also be the best? Or is it a disservice to fans to deny a public service – no matter the cost?
*As of press time, representatives for the Houston family had not responded to requests from EW to determine what role, if any, they would have in offsetting Newark’s costs.