The grave site of singer Whitney Houston and her father, John Russell Houston Jr., in the East Ridge section of the Fairview Cemetery in Westfield, N.J. (Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images)
Whitney Houston: Town ignored order to fly flags at half-staff
By Steve Padilla
4:31 p.m. CST, February 20, 2012
As singer Whitney Houston was laid to rest last weekend, municipalities across New Jersey lowered their flags to half-staff, a salute to a native daughter who, as Gov. Chris Christie put it, made significant cultural contributions to her home state.
“For those people who say, 'I don't think she deserves it,' I say to them, ‘I understand that you don't think that. I do, and it's my executive order,’” Christie, a Republican, said last week.
At least one town, however, ignored the governor’s executive order. (A man in Michigan burned the New Jersey state flag to express his displeasure, but more on that in a bit.)
Wayne Township, population 54,000, did not lower its flags -- at the request of Mayor Christopher P. Vergano.
“As of today I have received 13 emails in favor of not lowering the flags and one opposed to my decision,” Vergano wrote Monday in an email to the Los Angeles Times. “The emails came from as far as Florida, Texas and Virginia. My personal feeling is that the flag should only be lowered as an honor for military personal and fallen police officers. Most of the people that contacted me were in the military service and thanked me for my decision.”
Houston died Feb. 11 at age 48. Her body was found in the bathtub of her guest room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. Authorities have not yet announced a cause of death.
Among those in the township objecting to lowering the flag in Houston’s honor was the Wayne Township Policemen’s Benevolent Assn., Local 136. In a letter posted on the group’s Facebook page, association President Scott Rappaport wrote to Vergano on Feb. 16:
“Every death is a tragedy and we mean not to take that away from Ms. Houston’s family, friends and fans. However, we disagree that her death is somehow more significant or more important than the thousands of military personnel and civilians that die serving our country.”
What the association did not know was that Vergano had already made up his mind to keep the flags flying as usual.
Christie’s decision to lower the flag prompted comments, both pro and con, across the country. Also Saturday, the day funeral services were held in Newark for Houston, a man in the city of Wyoming, Mich., burned the New Jersey state flag on an outdoor grill in response to Christie’s order.
“It was a slap in the face. It cheapens the meaning of lowering that flag,” John Burri, 60, told the Detroit News. “They're watering down the meaning of a hero.”
Burri’s son, Army Spc. Eric T. Burri, was killed by an improvised explosive device while he was on patrol in Iraq in 2005. He was 21.
John Burri told the Detroit News: “I didn't do this to offend the people of New Jersey. If I did and you're offended, I'm sorry. But I did this because it was wrong and it was to show the governor [of New Jersey] how wrong this was.”
[Previously, on Whitney Houston and Chris Christie, at WEJB/NSU:
“Whitney Houston Dead at 48: Racist Singer Found Submerged in Beverly Hills Hilton Bathtub Saturday; She Struggled for Years with Drug Addiction; Cause of Death Pending”;
“Thou Shalt Not Blaspheme the Diva: Fox Tampa Bay Facebook Censor Deletes Less than Worshipful Memory of Whitney Houston”;
“Hosts of KFI’s John & Ken Show Suspended for Telling the Truth about Whitney Houston; Reconquistas Demand Termination; Prosecution to Follow?”
“Whitney Houston Singing the Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl (1991): Did She Set the Standard?”;
“Whitney Houston’s Family Refuses to Invite Her Ex, Bobby Brown to Her Funeral Service, Then Invites Him, but (Says Brown) Harasses Him, Until He Walks Out”;
“Whitney Houston and That Ragged Old Flag: Fallen War Hero Eric T. Burri’s Father Protests N.J. Gov. Chris Christie’s Sacrilege”; and
“No to Same-Sex ‘Marriage’: N.J. Gov. Chris Christie is Good for Something.”]