African-Americans and Irish join forces to get Obama voters to polls


FORMER PRESIDENT Bill Clinton is scheduled to attend a party hosted by Irish-American Democrats for 400 people following his speech at the Democratic convention tonight.

Maryland governor Martin O’Malley – a Democratic hopeful for the 2016 election; Christine Quinn, the chair of the New York City council who is likely to succeed Michael Bloomberg as mayor; Anthony Foxx, the black mayor of Charlotte and Ireland’s Ambassador Michael Collins will also attend.

The reception will launch a new “superpac” called McBlackpac, whose purpose is to unite Irish and African-American Democrats in communities where both are numerous, seeking to correct the under-representation of blacks in public office.

Stella O’Leary, who founded the Irish American Democrats political action committee in 1996, is a co-founder of McBlackpac. She sees the new organisation, which is separate from Irish American Democrats, as part of a continuum of historical co-operation between the Irish and black Americans.

“Daniel O’Connell and [the African-American abolitionist] Fredrick Douglass went to Westminster together in 1840 to ask for Catholic emancipation,” O’Leary notes. “In the 20th century, John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr worked together for civil rights. Now Barack Obama and [vice-president] Joe Biden [who is Irish American] are working together for justice and rights for immigrants and workers.”

Obama’s election in 2008 was to black America what JFK’s election was to Ireland, O’Leary says. She and Dennis Brownlee, an African-American vice-president of the Clear Channel television and radio conglomerate, had the idea for McBlackpac in 2008, and decided to launch it at the Charlotte convention. The Irish-American lawyer Brian O’Dwyer and the African-American attorney Pamela Miller are co-chairs, while O’Leary and Brownlee will act as co-treasurers.

Funds raised by McBlackpac in the run-up to the November 6th election will be poured into Cuyahoga County, Ohio, home to large numbers of blacks and Irish, O’Leary said. One of the greatest challenges facing Democrats this year is to motivate youths and ethnic minorities who turned out in record numbers to vote for Obama in 2008.

“Obama has been talking to a lot of college students,” O’Leary notes. “But it’s really hard to get them to the polls. Whereas the Irish vote; they will not stay home. You can count on the Irish. It’s in their blood.” Ohio and Pennsylvania are must-win swing states with substantial Irish-American populations. “We’re holding onto Ohio and Pennsylvania with our fingernails,” says O’Leary. She believes the Irish could tip the balance for Obama in those states.

Contrary to the popular impression – doubtless due to the Kennedy legacy – that Irish Americans vote Democrat, “there are huge numbers of Republicans”, says O’Leary, “starting with [the Republican vice-presidential nominee] Paul Ryan. “The Irish who took the soup moved to the Republican party once they made some money and got a green lawn, as [the late writer] Frank McCourt used to say. They forgot where they came from.”

Irish-American Democrats are strongest in the northeastern states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York, says O’Leary. “It’s about 50/50 in the midwest, and the Republicans dominate in the south, 70/30 or even 80/20. There are a lot of Irish-American Republicans in Texas.”

Tomorrow, Irish-American Democrats will host a smaller lunch for a few dozen people to celebrate Barack Obama’s Irish and Kenyan heritage, with the Irish and Kenyan ambassadors in attendance. A similar luncheon was held at the Denver convention that nominated Obama four years ago.

Ivan Doherty, a former Fine Gael official, who is now director of political party programmes at the US National Democratic Institute, will accompany eight Irish politicians to the lunch. They are: Charlie NcConnalogue TD, Robert Troy TD and Cllr Malcolm Byrne from Fianna Fail; Dara Murphy TD and Mark Kennelly, the chief of staff to An Taoiseach, from Fine Gael; Jack Wall TD and international secretary Michael McLaughlin from Labour, and Lord Alderdice from Northern Ireland.

Obama received support from another, unexpected Irish quarter when Philomena Lynott (81), the mother of the late rock star Phil Lynott, told Hot Press that her son would resent Republican hopeful Mitt Romney using Thin Lizzy’s hit The Boys are Back in Town in Tampa last week. Philip Lynott was “a proud, black Irishman” who would have supported Obama, Ms Lynott said.