The nine Christmas trees at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport were supposed to come down quietly over the weekend, in an attempt to avoid litigation and publicity. But it didn't quite work out that way.
"We've created quite a national media sensation," said Seattle Port Commissioner John Creighton, whose agency ordered the trees removed after a rabbi threatened to file a lawsuit unless the airport displayed a menorah, as well as the trees, within 24 hours.
Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky, with the Seattle chapter of Chabad-Lubavitch, had requested that the Port of Seattle include an electric menorah as part of the airport's holiday display this year.
But authorities decided to remove the trees, rather than be subject to accommodating all requests. Now, because of publicity and public outcry, the trees will soon be back.
Angry airport employees alerted local TV stations Saturday night, and the story took off -- spreading through national media reports as well as blogs and Internet bulletin board postings.
Harvey Grad, Bogomilsky's lawyer, said Monday that his client never intended for the trees to be removed, and was shocked by the port commission's action. He said that Seattle officials had mishandled the situation from the beginning.
"What we're really hoping now is that common sense prevails," Grad said. "If the port had allowed some kind of process, some dialogue on this, none of this would have happened."
Bogomilsky first raised the issue of including a menorah in the airport display in October, his lawyer said. But port officials said it did not come to their attention until last week, when they learned of the rabbi's threatened lawsuit.
No matter what the port decides to do, Grad said, his client does not intend to proceed with the suit. "Our hope is that they restore the trees, and also find a way to include the menorah in the display."
Creighton said that he has received at least 100 e-mails from the public since Saturday, more than he has gotten on any issue since he took office in January.
"Out of those 100, I've gotten only one supporting the commission's decision to remove the trees," Creighton said.
Late Monday, the port commission announced that with the threat of litigation lifted, "the holiday tress will be replaced as quickly as possible."
"Our primary mission is to keep the public moving through the airport," Creighton said, calling the removal of the trees unfortunate.
But, he said, "we didn't want to become embroiled in a religious controversy."