Bill and Hillary Clinton stayed true to the adage that there’s no friend like an old friend in the days leading to the New York presidential primary, and their Irish American supporters answered the call to rally in droves.
Last Tuesday at the American Irish Historical Society on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, at an event hosted by attorney and long-time Clinton supporter Brian O’Dwyer, Bill Clinton spoke for 40 minutes to an overflow crowd about his wife’s commitment to Northern Ireland peace and immigration reform, and his own devotion to Ireland which includes an affinity for the poet William Butler Yates, whose poem “Easter 1916,” the former president says, encapsulates the mindset of voters now.
“Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart,” said Clinton, quoting Yates.
Many of New York’s Irish community leaders were in attendance at the event, including members of the AOH, Irish immigrant support groups, cultural organizations and a number of politicians including Congressman Joe Crowley and the four members of the Irish caucus in the New York City Council: Elizabeth Crowley, Daniel Dromm, Corey Johnson and Jimmy Van Bramer.
Mae O’Driscoll, a founder of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement and a long-time activist in the community for a number of causes, praised Clinton as a hero, “the first American president in history to stand up for the Irish cause and focus on peace in Ireland.” She also approvingly noted in her speech that Clinton “infuriated the British government when he issued a travel visa to Gerry Adams,” eliciting loud applause from those in attendance.
Joe Crowley, Democrat of Queens who has been intricately involved in Irish issues since his early political days as a member of the New York State Assembly, gave props to both Clintons for their Irish leadership.
“If I say anything I’ll say this: President Clinton and Senator Clinton know Ireland. They understand Ireland. They’ve continued to visit Ireland to make sure peace was on course.
“Hillary,” he added, “ is a woman of her word.”
The words of Clinton’s Democratic opponent Bernie Sanders, an irate O’Dwyer pointed out, cannot be trusted, especially on the immigration front. O’Dwyer, chairman of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center and an advocate of expanding Irish immigration to the U.S., ripped into Sanders for his vote against the 2007 bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill authored by Senators Edward Kennedy and John McCain that would have provided a path to legalization for the undocumented, including the Irish.
“You know what he said? He said he voted against it because it would make virtual slaves of migrant workers. What a lie against Ted Kennedy,” O’Dwyer said.
“How dare he besmirch the memory of someone who fought so long and so hard for our people and all people. How dare he say that Ted Kennedy was going to put people into slavery.”
Clinton happily accepted a front cover Hillary endorsement of last week’s Irish Voice from founding publisher Niall O’Dowd. Holding a framed cover of the issue aloft, Clinton said he was “profoundly grateful for the Irish Voice’s endorsement of Hillary,” and that the cover “would have a treasured place in our family’s home for a long time.”
Clinton reveled in telling Irish stories and shoring up his wife’s Irish credentials, which include her support for the U.K. remaining part of the European Union when voters go to the polls to vote on the “Brexit” referendum in June.
When the Clintons heard about Brexit, “the first thing [Hillary] said was, ‘I bet that will be awful for Ireland, and pretty tough for Northern Ireland. I’m really worried about that.’”
The former president also told a story set at a party last summer in the Hamptons during the Clinton family’s vacation. Bill recalled going to the event solo while Hillary stayed at home with family – “I got the short straw,” he joked – and meeting the British secretary of state for Northern Ireland who served in 2010 who praised Hillary for her work in bringing the political parties in Northern Ireland together during a particularly difficult time.
“He said, ‘I called Hillary and I said you no longer have a responsibility to do this, but I know how much it means to you and how hard your husband worked at it. They won’t talk to each other and they are threatening to walk away, and I just need some help.’”
Hillary stepped in, her husband recalled hearing, “and he said 36 hours later, everybody showed up telling jokes and laughing. They sat down and went to work.
“And he told me, ‘I have no idea what she did, but I’m quite sure she’s the only person in the world who could have done it.”