YORKTOWN, Va. (WAVY) – The annual lighted boat parade is a fun holiday tradition for families in Yorktown, but this year’s has been marked with controversy. The winner was stripped of his trophy because of the political messaging on his boat.
Captain Bill Berger won over the crowd with his “Let’s Go Brandon” themed boat. “Let’s Go Brandon” and “FJB,” both of which appeared on the boat in lights, are code phrases used to criticize President Joe Biden.
“My boat was best in show to the crowd,” said Berger.
He said the committee knew about the theme and let him go with it, but where the problem lies is the Yorktown Foundation that oversees the groups running the parade cannot be involved in political speech as a 501c3 nonprofit.
“I’ve made more apologies in the last 48 hours than for the rest of my life, I hope,” said Yorktown Foundation Director Walt Akers.
Berger’s boat should not have been in the parade, but to make matters worse, he won.
Berger said “FJB” meant “falling Joe Biden,” and admitted the boat had an anti-Biden theme. FJB has also been affiliated with a profane statement about Biden.
“We had the letters separated and meaning falling Joe Biden, and we had him falling down a ladder,” Berger said.
The other sign read, “Let’s Go Brandon” which is a chant from a news broadcast where the reporter said the crowd was chanting “Let’s Go Brandon,” when in fact they were chanting “f–k Joe Biden.”
Since then, the boat was stripped of its title and the prize given to the runner-up instead.
“They had the awards ceremony, and they presented me winning the best in show and 48 hours later I got the phone call I was disqualified. They said my boat was too political,” the captain said.
On Tuesday, organizers of the Yorktown Lighted Boat Parade congratulated the winners, listing them as:
- 1st Place. #25. Eclipse “Peace on Earth”
- 2nd Place. #17. Plains Emergency Response Boat.
- 3rd Place. #4. Daddy’s Girl
WAVY asked Berger if the organizers should have known what they were getting with his theme board.
“Yes. They should have. They should not have been surprised. They had plenty of time to disqualify me,” he said.
The Yorktown Foundation’s Walt Akers says the Lighted Boat Committee dropped the ball.
“At some point as a foundation, we have not properly advised our lower groups on what the rules are as far as a nonprofit operation,” Akers said.
Akers says no politics allowed, you can say America is great but that’s it.
“If we allowed politics to interfere with events, we would also lose our nonprofit status, and all these organizations below us would be dissolved,” Akers explained.
Some people were offended, but it is clear from the foundation the organizers had the opportunity to stop Berger and they did not, and Akers gets that.
“Before we have any other event in Yorktown, we are going to make sure everyone understands we are government and by IRS laws that restricts us from having any political speech,” he said.
The Yorktown Foundation provided WAVY News 10 a copy of the statement it plans to present at its board meeting Tuesday night.
On December 4th, 2021, several members of the Foundation’s Board of Directors were made aware that a boat with an overt political message had participated in the Yorktown Lighted Boat Parade, and that the judges had awarded it first place. In discussions with the event organizers, they explained that they were equally perplexed that the boat had won and they took immediate corrective actions. The event organizers immediately notified the judges that the boat would be disqualified because its political statements were at odds with the mission of the Foundation, and the second-place boat would be advanced to the winning position. Further, the event organizers agreed to take steps in the coming year to review all entries in advance and
ensure that they do not detract from the community spirit that this event is designed to foster.
The members of the Yorktown Foundation wish to reiterate that our mission continues to be to unify our community through events and activities that showcase everything that is wonderful about Yorktown, York County and our citizens. While we recognize that political divisiveness is a factor in our daily discourse, we DO NOT want it to negatively impact anyone’s enjoyment of our community events.Yorktown Foundation
We regret that this incident occurred, and we will work to avoid such events in the future.
Parade organizers posted an apology on their Facebook page Wednesday morning, directed at both participants and spectators.
The message said the parade committee “will be making several corrections” before next year’s event. That includes:
- amending the entry form to include a description of the proposed decorations;
- adding clear guidance on appropriate entries directly on the entry form;
- adding a review process of the proposed themes
- changing the double-blind scoring process to include checks and balances.