The St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York has been dealt another blow with the announcement by Mayor Bill de Blasio that he will not march.
His predecessor Michael Bloomberg always took the politic step of marching in the parade in Queens organized by an Irish gay group the weekend before the St. Patrick’s Day parade and then stepping off up Fifth Avenue.
In reality he was inoculating himself on both sides of the issue, not a bad tactic in a city where ethnic and gender politics is such a combustible mix.
Everyone got to save face and the Irish parade community never got to feel that Bloomberg was deliberately dissing them.
De Blasio has chosen a different path, not unexpected perhaps given his political leaning and his lack of profile in the Irish American community.
There are some things he should know though. The original gay group was the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, formed to help gay young Irish immigrants here cope with depression and exploitation issues.
They performed very valuable services in that role and hundreds joined up.
That group was hijacked (there is no other word) by a hard core group who wanted to set up a stand-off with the Catholic Church and the conservative Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) who runs the parade.
Many of those involved had no interest whatever in Irish issues, but wanted to take their shots at a Catholic ethos they felt had debased them.
The Church and the AOH played their designated part by being every bit as unyielding in terms of sitting down and discussing the issue as could be expected and there the stand off continued.
The failure of efforts to bring both sides together was a blot on everyone concerned. The fact is a properly constituted Irish gay group should have marched in the parade years ago if the parade committee had had an ounce of smarts. The issue would then have been over.
Brendan Fay, a conciliatory figure in the Irish gay community, then set up the Queens parade, which offered the politicians and leaders in the community a way to serve both masters and hear equally from both sides.
Bloomberg took the olive branch and the parade and the gay rights surrounding it became essentially a non-issue for a dozen years, more than enough time to find a solution to a vexed problem but no one did.
Now it is back with a vengeance, the same kabuki dance we have seen in so many years prior to Bloomberg.
Given his shoddy treatment of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in his ungracious inaugural speech and now this decision, De Blasio has hardly gotten off on a good footing with the Irish American community. He could have chosen the same path Bloomberg did and then worked behind the scenes to resolve this issue.
Not that he likely cares about that. This way he gets the splashy headline - and he gets to say that FDNY and NYPD can march in uniforms. Thanks a bunch Mr Mayor.
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