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Saturday, September 20, 2014         

NEW YORK TIMES


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Amid mayoral miscues, some Irish eyes are rolling

By New York Times

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NEW YORK » He wants to close schools for the Chinese New Year, has pledged fealty to an Israeli political group, sprinkles Spanish and Italian phrases into his speeches and speaks frequently of his wife's Caribbean heritage.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who promised a newly inclusive approach to city government, wastes no opportunity to celebrate the multiethnic fabric of the metropolis he now leads.

But for one proud, if dwindling, New York constituency, de Blasio's young mayoralty has been perceived thus far as a series of slights and indignities, skipped parades and absent invitations.

The Irish of New York City, long accustomed to an outsize role in political life, are feeling left out in the cold. And the mayoral affronts, according to Irish officials and civic leaders, have quickly added up.

When de Blasio, citing animal cruelty, pledged to ban carriage horses from Central Park, many Irish-Americans were aghast, calling it a threat to an industry that has been a deep source of pride for the many Irish immigrants it employs (even actor Liam Neeson registered his protest).

When the mayor skipped a St. Patrick's parade in the Rockaways, a regular stop for city officials, he erroneously suggested that the event excluded some groups, angering residents still recovering from Hurricane Sandy.

And when de Blasio's team failed to send out invitations for the yearly St. Patrick's Day breakfast at Gracie Mansion, a cherished tradition for the city's Irish elite, widespread alarm set in, leaving Irish leaders anxious at the prospect that de Blasio might cancel the annual event.

City Hall officials, caught off-guard by the brewing frustration among Irish groups, are scrambling to make amends. After repeated inquiries from Irish leaders and, eventually, a reporter from The , the mayor's office announced that it would hold the breakfast, on Monday, albeit with fewer attendees than in recent years. "I know he's new, and you have to accept that," said Niall O'Dowd, whose paper, the Irish Voice, has run scathing editorials about de Blasio. "But I can't remember a mayor starting off on such a bad foot."

Irish leaders say they do not believe de Blasio has deliberately set out to provoke them, and they are quick to applaud the mayor's liberal stance on immigrants' rights, which they say is directly in line with their own.

Many interviewed for this article said they believed the tension stems from staff errors and poor communication with community leaders, symptoms of a new administration still adjusting to the job.

"The missteps do not come from malice, but basically from total inexperience," said Brian O'Dwyer, a lawyer and civic activist whose father, Paul, once led the City Council and drove a carriage in Central Park as a young immigrant.

Adrian Flannelly, a radio host who served as an informal liaison to the city's Irish community for Mayors Michael R. Bloomberg and Edward I. Koch, said de Blasio had simply failed to recognize the community's concerns.

The mayor "really needs advisers as to what's what," Flannelly said. "I think he deserves a break for this year. Going forward, there won't be any excuse."

Aides to de Blasio conceded that the Gracie breakfast had been organized later than usual, citing the frenetic pace of a new administration.

But they said the mayor has not been shy about showing support for the Irish, noting that he has appeared twice with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and received a warm reception at the inclusive St. Pat's for All parade in Queens. De Blasio and his wife also attended a recent fundraiser for Fallen Angels, a theater group featuring plays by Irish women.

The prospect of a Mayor de Blasio was never quite cheered by many Irish leaders, most of whom supported Christine C. Quinn, the former City Council speaker, in the Democratic primary.

And Quinn's defeat meant that, for the first time in eight years, no Irish official would occupy the uppermost ranks of the city's elected leadership, another sign of falling influence for an ethnic group whose ranks have fallen 25 percent in the five boroughs since 1990.

De Blasio's emphasis on the grass roots, which has made some of the city's old-line political players bristle, may be creating similar tensions in the Irish community, said T.J. English, president of Irish-American Writers and Artists, a nonprofit group.

"There's an Irish-American establishment that demands fealty to a certain kind of established order," English said. "Rank-and-file Irish-Americans, the kind who make up arts organizations in the city, and kids who are politically active on a grass-roots level - you would find most of those people are very supportive of him."

De Blasio made headlines last month with his decision to boycott the St. Patrick's Day Parade on Fifth Avenue, which prohibits expressions of gay pride, although he also rejected calls by gay groups to keep city employees from marching in uniform. His boycott ruffled some Irish New Yorkers and cheered others.

Malachy McCourt, the writer and memoirist, said he had little sympathy for de Blasio's critics.

"My attitude is, St. Patrick banished the slaves from Ireland and they all came here and they became conservatives," McCourt said in an interview. "You eventually become the thing you hate the most." (McCourt did say the mayor was misguided on the Central Park horses, which, he noted, "have been around since before Lincoln.")

De Blasio is hardly the first mayor to encounter tensions with the Irish. An ill-considered joke by Bloomberg, referring to the Irish as "people that are totally inebriated hanging out the window," earned him boos at the Manhattan parade.

On Monday, the mayor plans to meet with Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach, Ireland's prime minister, who will attend the Gracie breakfast, where Irish soda bread, Irish coffee, and not-so-Irish mini-croque-monsieurs will be served.

Rumors swirled last week that de Blasio's aides had been unresponsive when Irish diplomats first called to arrange the meeting. Noel Kilkenny, the Irish consul general in New York, said in an interview that he contacted City Hall and that de Blasio's team, "after some reflection," came back offering the visit.

Kilkenny said he was pleased with the outcome. "When there is a change with an administration," he added, "we never take anything for granted."

Michael M. Grynbaum and Nikita Stewart, New York Times






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