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Mayor-elect de Blasio blundered by not including Catholic on transition team

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New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio.
New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio.
It's the Battle of the Bills!

In this corner, newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who rode a wave of liberal/progressive populism to City Hall.

And in the other corner, Irish American Bill Donahue, who leads the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, and who blasted de Blasio last week, noting that the new mayor’s 60-person transition team is light on Catholics.

“There are two ministers, two rabbis and one imam on the transition committee. There are no Catholic priests,” fumed Donohue. “Catholics make up 52.5 percent of New York, yet they have no clergy representation.

“This is not an oversight. Every attempt was made to include persons from virtually every sector of New York. This was clearly done by design. Looks like de Blasio’s politics of inclusion has its limits.”

Well, Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

Look, first things first. This was a blunder on de Blasio’s part.

Of course, we’ve come a long way since New York City mayors had to pay special attention to the three “I”s — Ireland, Italy and Israel. Nevertheless, it’s not like Irish Americans and other white ethnic Catholics have vanished completely from the political landscape. From the northern Bronx to Staten Island to the Rockaways, there are still solidly Irish enclaves across New York City.

Did they vote heavily for de Blasio? Um, no. Even in an election where de Blasio won three out of every four votes, he fared poorly among white Catholics.

As a New York Times report noted, “Mr. de Blasio didn’t fare so well in white Catholic areas in places like Staten Island, Middle Village and Howard Beach, where Mr. Bloomberg won by 3 to 1 in 2009. [Joe] Lhota still managed a margin of 2 to 1.”

In one voting district in the heavily Irish Breezy Point neighborhood in Queens, de Blasio barely got 12 percent of the vote. Ditto central Staten Island.

In another election district in traditionally Irish Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, de Blasio barely got 20 percent of the vote. In one Far Rockaways precinct, de Blasio got exactly 7.4 percent of the vote.

So, theoretically, de Blasio’s camp could argue that since Irish Americans and other white Catholics did not support their campaign, they may need to focus on areas where they received more support.

But that’s lame on two levels. First of all, de Blasio’s administration should reach out to those who voted for Republican candidate Lhota, to perhaps find common ground on various issues.

More importantly, Hispanics – who did vote in large numbers for de Blasio – are Catholic, too. So de Blasio goofed by deciding that, when striving for diversity, Catholics are unimportant.

This reflects a larger problem with liberal and progressive political types. They remain rather uncomfortable with religion in general and Catholicism in particular.

Coming on the heels of the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, it’s important to note that there is a rich tradition of anti-Catholicism among not only close-minded bigots, but also high-minded progressive intellectual types who tend to view religion as oppressive and corrupt.

But angry conservative Catholics like Donohue should be careful what they wish for.

Here is where de Blasio really screwed up. He does not need to appoint a token Irish Catholic right winger in the mold of Sean Hannity just to prove that he is open minded. If he put any effort into the task at all, de Blasio would have no problem locating a Catholic priest whose views on economic equality and social justice match his own just fine.

As former Bill Thompson campaign adviser Bruce Gyory noted in the Daily News, “(T)he church has been a dependable ally for progressives on other causes, including immigration, fighting hospital and mental-health cuts and preserving social-service spending.”

Sure, de Blasio would have to have an honest debate with such a devout Catholic on issues such as abortion and gay rights.

But isn’t that a debate worth having not only in New York City, but within the entire American Catholic church?

(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com)

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