My late mentor, Frank McCourt, once told me that I am an honorary Irishman, perhaps one of the finest compliments I have ever received. That is why I will march this Saturday in New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade to honor Frank's memory.
Frank McCourt, a New York City public school teacher for more than three decades, came to New York in the 1950s, penniless and seeking a better life than his dreary childhood in Limerick, Ireland. In that way, he was just like my parents: Holocaust survivors who escaped Europe in the mid-1950s to build a better life for themselves and their children. That is one of the many things Frank McCourt and I bonded over during our quarter-century friendship.
Frank and I have a mutual friend, Mike Gibbons, a retired Estee Lauder executive, who has asked me to march with him in this Saturday's parade, and I will do so proudly. I will wear shamrock green, walk the streets of Fifth Avenue with a spring in my step and greet one of New York's most storied and successful immigrant groups with a smile on my face.
Many of New York's elected leaders, including Christine Quinn, the Speaker of the City Council and my likely opponent in the 2013 mayoral election, will boycott Saturday's parade as they have done in recent years. They will do so, as is their prerogative, because the organizers of the parade, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, will adhere to the Irish Catholic belief that gay people should not be allowed to march in their parade.
This is regrettable -- and wrong in my opinion -- but it is the Hibernians' right to do so. As a gay online publication, Queerty.com, has pointed out: "... for the same reasons we don't want anyone telling us who "has" to be allowed to march in Heritage of Pride's Gay Pride March each June, or any LGBT pride event around the nation, it's inappropriate to insist the Hibernians must adhere to our demands."
I think all of this is an unfortunate distraction from what should be a wonderful and joyous day: the Irish were one of the first settlers in New York City, they have contributed much to its growth and Saturday will be a day to salute their past, present and future successes. People like Frank McCourt, who educated tens of thousands of immigrant children at New York City's public schools and later went on to worldwide fame as the author of Angela's Ashes is just one of many Irish immigrants who have made New York great.
Ray Kelly, our current police commissioner, is a great New Yorker and a great Irish American. He has made New York safer for the past two decades; first, when he took over as police commissioner in his first stint in 1992 and helped institute the "Safe Streets, Safe City" program of community policing that started New York's incredible war on crime. And in his second tour of duty from 2002 to the present, he and his amazing department have thwarted a number of plots against New York by potential terrorists. On Saturday, I will also be thinking of him and his dedication to New York as we salute the Irish.
East Side Congesswoman Carolyn Maloney, a tireless fighter for her district, for the cause of all women and for small businesses and transportation (she helped fund the new Second Avenue subway) is another great New Yorker of Irish descent. I worked closely with her and other local leaders a decade ago to start a new East Side high school, Eleanor Roosevelt, when parents on the East Side were clamoring for a new school for their kids. Carolyn was persistent and dogged in representing her constituents and along with the hard work of other East Side elected leaders we got ElRo High School created and it is now the second most popular public high school in the city. I will raise a toast to her on Saturday.
It is misguided, I believe, for the Hibernians to exclude gay people from their parade. But we should not tarnish this great event because of politics and political correctness; we should put politics and scoring points aside on days like these and think about great New Yorkers like the late Frank McCourt, Ray Kelly and Carolyn Maloney, and thank our lucky charms that they have chosen New York as their home.
For one day, St. Patrick's Day, let's hope we all have the Luck of the Irish.
Tom Allon, a 2013 Democrat and Liberal candidate for Mayor of New York City, is a former public school English teacher at Stuyvesant High School. He helped create Eleanor Roosevelt High School and Frank McCourt High School in New York City. He is now the President of Manhattan Media.
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