New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
This Wednesday, March 27, the newly renovated New York City Department of Records Visitor’s Center is hosting an event celebrating the contribution Irish American men and women have made building this great city.
Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny and City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn were among those expected to attend and talk to the audience. The event is co-sponsored by the New York City Department of Records and the law firm of O’Dwyer and Bernstien.
The Irish have indeed been building up New York City dating back to the 1600s. Waves of immigrants walked the streets as cops, dug tunnels as sandhogs and took to the skies to build the Empire State Building in the 1930s -- not to mention the new Freedom Tower in the 21st century, with second-generation ironworkers such as Tommy Hickey and Mike O’Reilly playing a prominent role bringing life back to the former Ground Zero.
It is fitting, then, for mayoral candidate Quinn to celebrate Irish labor in New York City. She may well bring the long, celebrated tradition of Irish American New York mayors into the 21st century.
Her Irish roots are firm and strong.
Her immigrant grandmother grew up in Cork, but then famously boarded a certain ship called the Titanic. Quinn’s grandmother survived that treacherous voyage, and the rest is New York City history.
But Quinn has quite a rough ride ahead for herself. In recent days, she has been forced to confront two particularly prickly labor-related issues. Where Quinn stands on these issues now may well define whether or not she stands outside of City Hall in January 2014, and takes the oath of office as New York City’s first Irish American governor since William O’Dwyer in 1950, and New York’s first female (not to mention openly gay) mayor ever.
First, Quinn has riled some labor advocates -- not to mention other Democratic mayoral candidates -- by holding off on a vote which would force businesses to grant employees paid sick leave.
“The only obstacle to this legislation is the speaker, who’s blocking this bill with an iron fist,” said former New York City comptroller and mayoral candidate Bill Thompson.
Obviously, many working class New Yorkers lose precious money when they fall ill and are unable to work. Quinn, however, has said that many small businesses might be harmed if they are forced to grant as many as five paid sick days a year to workers.
Quinn is being forced to decide if she will stand with workers or with small business owners, an easily-forgotten group trying to make a living in a shaky economy, and in a city seemingly overrun by Starbucks and CVS. This includes New York’s many Irish bar and restaurant owners.
Perhaps more explosively, Quinn has also supported an independent monitor for the New York City Police Department. Supporters say the NYPD is out of control, abusing its power and excessively stopping and frisking black and Hispanic New Yorkers.
The main police union, not surprisingly, feels otherwise.
This puts Quinn on a collision course with fellow Irish American big wigs Ray Kelly (police commissioner) and Patrick Lynch (head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association).
Independent oversight of the NYPD has been a lightning rod in New York politics for decades. Back in 1965, when Mayor John Lindsay proposed independent oversight of the then heavily-Irish NYPD, the ensuing backlash was intense. Lindsay’s critics eventually placed a ballot measure before voters which did away with any effort to independently monitor the police, giving Lindsay a black eye.
Nearly 50 years later, could Quinn face a similar backlash?
Here’s hoping the leading mayoral candidate enjoys celebrating the glorious past of New York’s Irish labor heroes. Because the future looks a lot more unsettled.