Irish-Americans upset by perceived slights from De Blasio

New York City Irish, used to a big role in political life, feel unloved by new mayor

New York mayor Bill de Blasio greets John  Ahern, grand marshal of the 2014 New York St Patrick’s Day Parade, yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

New York mayor Bill de Blasio greets John Ahern, grand marshal of the 2014 New York St Patrick’s Day Parade, yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Lucas Jackson


He wants to close schools for the Chinese New Year, has pledged fealty to an Israeli political group, sprinkles Spanish and Italian phrases into his speeches and speaks frequently of his wife’s
Caribbean heritage.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who promised a newly inclusive approach to city government, wastes no opportunity to celebrate the multiethnic fabric of the metropolis he now leads. But for one proud, if dwindling, New York constituency, de Blasio’s young mayoralty has been perceived thus far as a series of slights and indignities, skipped parades and absent invitations.

The Irish of New York City, long accustomed to an outsize role in political life, are feeling left out in the cold. And the mayoral affronts, according to Irish officials and civic leaders, have quickly added up.

When de Blasio, citing animal cruelty, pledged to ban carriage horses from Central Park, many Irish-Americans were aghast, calling it a threat to an industry that has been a deep source of pride for the many Irish immigrants it employs (even actor Liam Neeson registered his protest).

When the mayor skipped a St Patrick’s parade in the Rockaways, a regular stop for city officials, he erroneously suggested that the event excluded some groups, angering residents still recovering from Hurricane Sandy.

And when de Blasio’s team failed to send out invitations for the yearly St Patrick’s Day breakfast at Gracie Mansion, a cherished tradition for the city’s Irish elite, widespread alarm set in, leaving Irish leaders anxious at the prospect that de Blasio might cancel the annual event.

City Hall officials, caught off-guard by the brewing frustration among Irish groups, are scrambling to make amends. After repeated inquiries from Irish leaders, the mayor’s office said it would hold the breakfast, albeit with fewer attendees than in recent years. “I know he’s new, and you have to accept that,” said Niall O’Dowd, whose paper, the Irish Voice , has run scathing editorials about de Blasio. “But I can’t remember a mayor starting off on such a bad foot.”

Not deliberate
Irish leaders say they do not believe de Blasio has deliberately set out to provoke them, and they are quick to applaud his liberal stance on immigrants’ rights, which they say is directly in line with their own.

Many said they believed the tension stems from staff errors and poor communication with community leaders, symptoms of a new administration still adjusting to the job.

“The mis-steps do not come from malice, but basically from total inexperience,” said Brian O’Dwyer, a lawyer and civic activist whose father, Paul, once led the city council and drove a carriage in Central Park as a young immigrant.

Adrian Flannelly, a radio host who served as an informal liaison to the city’s Irish community for mayors Michael Bloomberg and Edward Koch, said de Blasio had failed to recognise the community’s concerns. The mayor “really needs advisers as to what’s what”, Flannelly said. “I think he deserves a break for this year. Going forward, there won’t be any excuse.”

Aides to de Blasio conceded that the Gracie breakfast had been organised later than usual, citing the frenetic pace of a new administration. But they said he has not been shy about showing support for the Irish, noting he has appeared twice with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and received a warm reception at the inclusive St Pat’s for All parade in Queens. De Blasio and his wife also attended a fundraiser for Fallen Angels, a theatre group featuring plays by Irish women.

De Blasio’s emphasis on the grassroots, which has made some of the city’s old-line political players bristle, may
be creating similar tensions
in the Irish community, said
TJ English, president of Irish-American Writers and Artists, a nonprofit group.

“There’s an Irish-American establishment that demands fealty to a certain kind of established order,” English said. “Rank-and-file Irish-Americans, the kind who make up arts organisations in the city, and kids who are politically active on a grassroots level – you would find most of those people are very supportive of him.”

De Blasio made headlines last month with his decision to boycott the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue, which prohibits expressions of gay pride, although he also rejected calls by gay groups to keep city employees from marching in uniform.

Malachy McCourt, the writer and memoirist, said he had little sympathy for de Blasio’s critics. “My attitude is, St Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland and they all came here and they became conservatives,” McCourt said. “You eventually become the thing you hate the most.”

– ( New York Times )

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