Plans for the 2016 St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City are rapidly moving ahead despite the lingering controversy over the parade’s leadership according to Dr. John Lahey, who was appointed to chair the parade’s nonprofit overseeing board of directors, NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc., in June.
In an interview with the Irish Voice on Monday Lahey, President of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, said the board, acting on its legal authority, has negotiated a new contract with long-time parade broadcaster WNBC for the next three years, a deal which will be presented to the 16 members of the board for approval at a meeting next month.
Also, the board is in the final stages of selecting a second LGBT group to take part in next year’s parade, and though Lahey declined to confirm which group this would be, sources told the Irish Voice that if the board gives its expected approval at the September meeting, it is virtually certain that the Lavender and Green Alliance, chaired by long-time activist Brendan Fay, will march up Fifth Avenue in 2016.
With regards to the parade permit, issued annually by the New York Police Department, Lahey said it is issued in the name of NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc., even though long time parade committee chairman John Dunleavy signed for it each year. Lahey said the corporation is legally entitled to apply for the permit each year, despite Dunleavy’s insistence otherwise.
As far as the 2016 TV broadcast goes, “WNBC is thrilled to be the home of the parade, and it will be my recommendation that the board approves this deal. The terms are very favorable for us,” said Lahey, who served as parade grand marshal in 1997.
Since taking over as chairman of NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc. by a unanimous vote at the June meeting, Lahey has also acted on behalf of the board to conduct a new audit of parade finances and review all expenditures. A report will be presented to the board at next month’s meeting.
Lahey expects the finances to be in “good shape” due to the success of this year’s parade in attracting renewed sponsorship after the inclusion of the parade’s first gay marching group, OUT@NBCUniversal, the LGBT support group of NBC.
Though Lahey and his supporters on the board are planning meticulously for next year’s parade, which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Ireland, he is aware that the long-time chairman of the parade committee, Dunleavy, is challenging the shift in parade leadership.
In June, NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc., the legal 501 (c) 3 nonprofit formed more than 20 years ago, formalized its legally authorized role in overseeing all aspects of the parade. Lahey was unanimously elected as chairman of the corporation’s board of directors, with Dunleavy retaining his title of chairman of the parade committee which organizes and executes the parade formation – the difference being that the committee is part of the board and must act in accordance with the board’s wishes.
The early board meeting in June was forced, Lahey says, by Dunleavy’s continued opposition to a second gay group in next year’s march, and his offering of parade broadcast rights to networks other than WNBC despite the fact that Lahey, in his dual role as vice chairman of the parade committee, is charged with negotiating media and sponsorship rights.
“John is claiming he was removed from the parade committee. That’s not true. He is still chairman of the parade committee. He is also a member of the board with one vote like every other board member,” says Lahey.
Dunleavy, Lahey adds, was given ample notice of June’s board meeting and could have taken part by phone as other members did. “We were not trying to avoid him as he says we were by his being out of the country,” Lahey explains. “Other members who took part did so by phone. You didn’t need to be here.”
Lahey is aware that Dunleavy has enlisted the services of an attorney, Francis Young of White Plains, to seek legal remedy. Lahey received a letter from Young questioning him about Quinnipiac University’s role in the parade; Lahey advised Young to contact Quinnipiac’s legal counsel if he had any issues with the university, which is not involved with the operations of the parade.
Lahey said he and the board “have no way of knowing” if Dunleavy’s outreach with WPIX Channel 11 and its promises of free parade coverage are genuine. “I have no way of knowing what he is talking of because we haven’t seen anything in writing,” said Lahey.
“If there is such a deal we’ll look at it. But I am confident that the deal we have with WNBC is extremely favorable for the parade.”
Several sources who also spoke to the Irish Voice questioned the veracity of the WPIX offer, given Dunleavy’s anti-gay marching group stance.
“Really, how would WPIX get involved in something like that? What kind of support would they get? And they’d be in line for all kinds of protests. They won’t do business like that,” one source said.
Regardless of the current issues with parade leadership and future direction, Lahey retains admiration for Dunleavy and his decades of work on the parade. A personal relationship between their families dating back 35 years through St. Margaret’s in Riverdale in the Bronx is still meaningful to Lahey, who, like Dunleavy, has been involved in various capacities with the parade for decades.
“No one has been more publicly loyal and supportive of John than I have. I admire him and I feel sad about what’s happened,” says Lahey.
“It’s sad because times change. The things we are proposing aren’t radical changes. Look what’s happened in Ireland with the marriage equality vote. And the Supreme Court here. And Cardinal Dolan agreeing to be grand marshal this year with OUT@NBCUniversal marching for the first time. Times change.”
Lahey is looking forward to next year’s march being “the best we’ve ever had,” given the anniversary of the Easter Rising and the increased spotlight on all things Irish.
“We’ve been working with the Irish government to make sure it’s going to be very memorable,” says Lahey.
The naming of a grand marshal won’t occur until after September’s board meeting, Lahey said. Dunleavy’s position as parade committee chairman is up in November and he’s told supporters he plans to run for another term in November. At that time, Lahey plans to surrender his role as the committee’s vice chairman to concentrate fully on his chairmanship of NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc.
“I don’t need more titles or more positions. I have enough of those already. I’m involved in the St. Patrick’s Day parade because I truly love it,” Lahey says.