When Mayor Michael Bloomberg began his off-the-cuff speech to the hundred or so gathered at the American Irish Historical Society for the launch of a book about the St. Patrick's Day Parade on Wednesday night, the atmosphere was jovial.
But a few sentences in, the crowd’s mood changed with his utterance of an Irish stereotype, that he would later publicly apologize for.
Speaking about the Society’s building on 80th and Fifth, which was the venue for the event, the New York mayor said he lived close by and that “before I came here, normally when I walk by this building, there are a bunch of people that are totally inebriated hanging out the windows and waving.”
“I know, that’s a stereotype of the Irish, but nevertheless. We Jews from around the corner think this," he continued much to the audience’s dismay.
News of the Mayors slur spread quickly after it was first reported by IrishCentral. Yesterday, it was the main story in the two new York tabloids, the Post and The News as well as the lead in the New York Times Metro section.
For many, the Mayor’s comments came as a shock due to the close ties that he has cultivated with the Irish American community.
“In a city where stereotypes go out the window and diversity is embraced, it is shameful and inappropriate for the Mayor to reinforce a stereotype that Irish people have been trying to shake off for decades,” Amy Feran, a New York resident originally from Co. Louth, told IrishCentral.
“I think people reacted rightly, we need people to speak up against these kind of slurs, which further perpetuate negative views of Irish people,” she added.
However, for others the widespread media coverage and airtime that the story was awarded was too much.
“It was a frivolous comment playing on the Irish stereotype, there was no malice as far as I can see,” says John McKeown, a Dublin filmmaker on vacation here in New York.
“I know politicians have to be careful, so if people are offended, that’s legitimate but that’s just politics and communications these days, they’re all trained to be as bland and insipid as possible so as not to at all offend.
“However there was nothing innately malevolent in what he said. Print media is dying... so news doesn’t sell papers any more, "controversy" does," McKeown added.
Despite the mixed reactions to his comment, the Mayor was quick to formally apologize.
“I apologize. I certainly did not mean to offend anybody,” he said in a statement issued on Thursday.
Was the apology necessary? Meabh McDaid, a bartender living in the Bronx thinks the damage was already done.
“I don’t think the apology really made a difference, the man still said what he did,” she told Irish Central.
“I was reading about in the paper, and I really think the man meant no harm. I think a lot of Irish over here would laugh it off; after all Irish people have given that impression to people when it comes to drinking," McDaid admits.
But Deirdre Foy, living in Queens, thinks an apology was the least the Mayor could have offered
“He was right to apologize, but his apology seems prompted entirely by the bad publicity he received from his comments. It seemed hollow and insincere,’ she said.
Foy said the Mayor should never lean towards stereotypes in one of the biggest melting pots of the U.S.
“In a city like New York with so many ethnic groups living side by side there is no need to resort to this kind of stereotyping especially when it comes to a national holiday that has such a history with the city.
“He wouldn't dare say something similar about Martin Luther King Day or Cinqo di Mayo,” she added.