A Silver Spring penguin float in the 2019 Thanksgiving parade Credit: Photo from Elizabeth Gallauresi

Next week, an annual Thanksgiving Parade will roll and march through downtown Silver Spring again after a pandemic-induced break.

But it won’t have one thing the Montgomery County government wanted — four floats focusing on seven county “signature initiatives,” such as economic development and fighting climate change.

Montgomery County, which organizes the parade, put out a solicitation for a contract for four floats in the parade. Bidders were urged to pick themes such as “expanding early care and education,” “advancing racial equity and social justice,” “fighting climate change” and “building bus rapid transit.”

As the bid solicitation notes, focusing on issues and policies is a departure from parade units and floats that “favor holiday (Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas) and seasonal (autumn, Nutcracker Ballet, winter, sports) traditional subjects.”

Santa Claus always marks the end of the parade, kicking off a look ahead to Christmas.

Even though the themes the county wanted to highlight on the floats dovetail with County Executive Marc Elrich’s campaign platform, Elrich dismissed the similarity. He said the idea for this year’s floats — which won’t be built because no one bid on the contract — reflect county residents’ values.

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“They are also things that most people on the council agree with,” Elrich, the grand marshal, said. “They are common values.”

The request for bids on the floats contract said it wanted “family friendly” and festive floats.

It also said “the expectation is that holiday parades are mute on public policy and anything that would spur debate on government or politics.”

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The solicitation for the floats did not indicate how much the county expected to pay for the floats, but the contract allows for reimbursements of costs of up to $3,000 per float.

Elrich spokesman Scott Peterson said the idea to make Montgomery County’s floats that reflect popular issues in the county was “created by staff out of the Community Engagement Cluster with additional language added by the Shared Services division of the Office of Management and Budget.”

“They used standard boilerplate language regarding the overall vision of the Montgomery County government, which is publicly posted on the County website, as a framework for ideas of a potential float design. This is a common practice in order to provide potential vendors with an understanding of our County’s general goals and principles,” Peterson said.

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In separate text messages, Peterson wrote that there was a “rapid transit” float in the 2018 parade, proof that the county “doesn’t always fund Thanksgiving-y theme floats.”

Susan Hoffmann, the manager of marketing and special events in the Silver Spring area for Montgomery County, said this will be the county’s 25th Thanksgiving parade.

“We are the only Thanksgiving parade in the DMV,” she said.

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Yet, because of “supply issues,” the handful of companies that construct floats failed to bid on this year’s contracts, Hoffmann said.

“So, we have found some innovative ways to make the parade exciting,” she said.

One is that Santa will not ride on a float this year, but in a sleigh pulled by horses, because the county does not have any floats this year.

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Shaw Parades, a family-owned business in Frostburg that has created floats for the county in the past, has constructed a holiday-inspired float for this year’s parade for Patient First, a chain of urgent care centers.

Proprietor John Shaw said his company won’t make floats for the county this year “for a number of reasons.”

The main one is that his son, who is a business partner, contracted COVID-19 and they could not construct the four floats the county wanted.

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“We said we could do one or two,” Shaw said.

Shaw said he had never seen a request for proposal from the county asking that the Thanksgiving parade floats reflect anything other than holiday themes.

The pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s Thanksgiving parade. This year, participants will wear masks, unless playing a musical instrument makes that impossible.

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The parade will run from 10 a.m. to noon on Nov. 20.

It will begin on Ellsworth Drive, turning left onto Georgia Avenue toward downtown Silver Spring, continuing for about a mile.

Spectators are encouraged to wear masks and stay socially distant.

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