Thursday was a day of firsts for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio: he became the first sitting mayor to visit the Irish Consulate on Park Avenue, and he confirmed that he would march for the first time in this year’s New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“It’s our nature to embrace and support all people,” de Blasio said at a packed Irish community gathering and press conference at the consulate yesterday afternoon.
The prior exclusion of an Irish gay group from the line of march was a “blemish” on New York, the mayor added.
“Now for the first time,” he said, “the whole Irish community will come together to celebrate.”
Confirming an exclusive report last month from IrishCentral's sister publication the Irish Voice, de Blasio said he will march with members of the city’s uniformed services at the start of the parade, and return later in the day to march with the Lavender and Green Alliance, the Irish gay group that will take part for the first time after 25 years of exclusion.
The mayor paid tribute to two people who weren’t in the room whom he said helped pave the way for an inclusive Fifth Avenue march: Pope Francis and Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
“Since the beginning of his papacy he has sent a mission of inclusion and respect for all,” de Blasio said of the pope. “His message has resonated deeply.”
Dolan and the mayor spoke in a phone call in the hours before the press conference, “and we talked about what this moment meant,” de Blasio said.
“I told him from the bottom of my heart how appreciative I have been. I told him what an honor it would be to stand with him on St. Patrick’s Day.”
The mayor was joined by a number of Irish American community leaders behind the mayoral podium, which was delivered to the consulate for the occasion. Frank McGreal, a member of the parade board of directors which after a leadership change last year voted to lift the ban on an Irish LGBT group, spoke on behalf of the parade and the wish of board members to move forward.
“The board says to all, Céad Míle Fáilte, a hundred thousand welcomes,” said McGreal.
The event turned emotional when a teary-eyed Brendan Fay, co-founder of the Lavender and Green Alliance who from day one has been leading the charge for an all-inclusive parade, took to the podium to thank the parade board for its “miracle of hospitality.”
“It’s been a long and winding road to this inclusion,” said Co. Louth native Fay, who paid tribute to many deceased supporters like Father Mychal Judge, who died on 9/11.
New York City Council Members Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens were equally moved by the turn of events that saw them reflect on their journey from parade-related protests and arrests, to standing in the Irish Consulate talking about their joy at finally being able to march behind an Irish LGBT banner.
Dromm shed tears as he paid tribute to Fay. “To see his struggle over the last 25 years has been incredible. There were many times we wanted to give up and we wondered if we would ever see this day,” he said.
“It’s a day of reconciliation and healing for all of us.”
The press conference was hosted by Irish Consul General Barbara Jones, whose role in helping to bring all sides together to settle the parade dispute was called “crucial” by de Blasio.
“We are here because the mayor has the very best of news for us all. I do want to say that I salute him and welcome his team in a very open-hearted way,” Jones said.
“Today is a coming together that has been happening for weeks in this very room.”
De Blasio took questions from the media after his remarks, and indicated some flexibility over the Department of Education’s controversial decision to schedule parent teacher conferences on St. Patrick’s Day. Last month, attorney Brian O’Dwyer filed a civil rights complaint with the city’s Human Rights Commission on behalf of an Irish American schoolteacher, Frank Schorn, who claims his right to celebrate his religion and Irish American heritage is being violated because of the conference scheduling.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers who also spoke at yesterday’s event, said that Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina “is open” to teachers making other arrangements to meet parents, “and is trying to finalize that.”