They won’t be meeting on Fifth Avenue for the St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 17, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and parade committee chairman John Dunleavy did exchange pleasantries last Saturday at the Rockaway parade – even if the chief compliment was made in error.
De Blasio, who joined the line of march at the Rockaway parade 30 minutes after his scheduled arrival time, spoke from the reviewing stand after he marched and thanked the organizers of the event – including Dunleavy, who served as honorary Rockaway grand marshal.
“I want to thank everyone who makes this parade possible. I also want to thank John Dunleavy for his leadership as the parade chair,” de Blasio said, confusing Dunleavy with the long-time president of the Rockaway parade, Mike Benn.
After de Blasio spoke, Dunleavy shook his hand. “Thank you very much for the kind words Mr. Mayor,” he said before taking to the podium and affirming that the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day parades are first and foremost an exercise in honoring Catholicism.
“It will be a great day on Fifth Avenue,” said Dunleavy as de Blasio, who will again boycott the parade over the exclusion of a gay Irish marching group, looked on at his side. “We can never forget that the parade is a celebration of Catholic faith.”
The mayor reiterated at a post-parade press briefing that he would not take part in the March 17 event. “At this moment I don’t plan to march based on the information we have on how it’s going to be set up,” he said.
In response to a question from the Irish Voice, de Blasio confirmed that his office has been in contact with the New York parade committee to try and broker a compromise.
“People from my office have been in touch with the parade committee and we’ve talked to other interested parties, and I think a lot of people would love to find a compromise, but so far that hasn’t happened,” he said.
De Blasio did not march in last year’s Rockaway parade, admitting that he erred in thinking the parade excluded gay groups. The parade has a policy of welcoming all marchers, but a gay group did not apply to take part in this year’s event.
‘This is an example of how everyone celebrates Irish heritage together,” De Blasio said of the Rockaway march. “I think it’s a healthy example for the city, as is the St. Pat’s for All parade in Sunnyside.
“I think this is what we should be aspiring to. I believe we will get there one day on Fifth Avenue. I hope it’s sooner rather than later.”
Dozens of units from across New York marched on a sunny, brisk Saturday afternoon. But notable for its absence was the city’s Department of Sanitation, Rockaway favorites especially since the massive clean-up effort after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Sanitation employees worked around the clock to clear the parade route of the snow that fell two days earlier, but the department made the decision to withdraw from the parade this year to continue with the clean-up from the multitude of snowstorms that hit New York.
“We’ve asked a lot of our sanitation workers the past few months,” de Blasio said when asked about the department’s absence.
“We’ve had to because there has been a lot of need. They’ve had a really big job the past couple of months, and they’ve done a great job.”
This year’s Rockaway grand marshal was Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. An array of elected officials took part in the march, including Congressman Joe Crowley, who was named Gael of the Year, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who also plans on skipping the Fifth Avenue parade.
“I don’t plan on marching at this time,” he told the Irish Voice. “The parade needs to be more inclusive. There’s still time.”
When asked if he was anticipating a last-minute compromise that would allow for the inclusion of an Irish gay group, Stringer said he wasn’t.
“But we live in hope,” he added.