Dr. John Lahey is now chairman of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc.
By Ray O’Hanlon
John Dunleavy wasn’t ousted from any position.
But his ability to almost single handedly control the destiny of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade was severely diminished as a result of a position being filled.
As the fallout over the recent move in the parade power structure to effectively sideline Dunleavy continues to spread, Dunleavy himself appears to be digging in, and is seemingly determined not to relinquish his central role without a fight.
Just what effect this will have on the parade, its long term future, and the more immediate concern that is the standout year march in 2016, remains to be seen.
But long time parade observers are expressing fearful concern.
The parade, they feel, needs a new controversy like the proverbial hole in the head.
Nevertheless, it has one on its hands, and the consequences could be very serious indeed.
From conversations with some of the leading figures in what is now an evident standoff in parade circles, the Echo has pieced together a picture of what transpired before, during, and after an extraordinary conference call of parade directors that involved parade leaders contributing from both coasts of the United States, and from Ireland.
In the latter case, the participant was not John Dunleavy, who was visiting relatives in both Ireland and London when the conference took place.
The conference call took place against a backdrop of issues that leading members, including parade committee vice chairman, Dr. John Lahey, felt required immediate attention.
The issues had been discussed at the last meeting in April, described as a “lively” one by one participant.
The next formal board of directors meeting was not scheduled until the late summer or fall, probably a date sometime in September.
Members wanted to address the matter of a renewed broadcasting contract with WNBC, and also holding discussions with a gay and lesbian group that had applied to march in the 2015 parade, but had been turned down in favor of the LGBT group comprised of NBC employees that did take part in the 253rd march in honor of St. Patrick.
There had been a growing discussion over the need to include a gay marching group that would be readily identified as Irish.
The Green and Lavender Alliance, headed by longtime activist and co-organizer of the St. Pat’s For All parade in Sunnyside, Queens, Brendan Fay, was top of the list in this regard.
The conference call took place on Tuesday, June 30.
All involved were aware of a report carried by the Irish Central website stating that parade committee chairman John Dunleavy had met with executive from New York television channels other than WNBC with a view to offering broadcasting rights to the parade.
The report also portrayed Mr. Dunleavy as being opposed to the participation of any gay group in the 2016 parade.
At the same time, board members had been holding talks with parade director and 2012 grand marshal, Frank Comerford, the president and general manager of WNBC, with a view to extending the relationship with that network, this after the existing three year contract had expired.
The feeling among board members was that the matter of broadcasting rights, and the inclusion of a second gay marching group, were matters for the entire board, and not just one individual, to deal with.
The members also felt that a renewed invitation to the NBC gay group was warranted because it had marched properly in this year’s parade.
The phone conference, according to one source, had been flagged two weeks in advance. All board members, including Chairman Dunleavy, had been invited to participate.
However, Mr. Dunleavy did not participate in the June 30 conversation which included 13 of the parade’s 16 board members.
One of the participants was in Ireland, another in California.
The decision was made to renew with WNBC and invite a second gay group.
With regard to renewing with WNBC, the decision was unanimous. In the matter of inviting the second gay group, it was ten to zero with three abstentions.
But it was another decision, one which was intended to “clarify” John Dunleavy’s role in the parade that was to lead to rancor and rupture.
Mr. Dunleavy was, and remains, the chairman of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration Committee.
But the chairmanship of a second parade entity, one set up in the 1990s and mainly at the behest of the late Jim Barker, was viewed as being vacant.
This second grouping is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc.
This is the legal entity that is ultimately responsible for the parade.
Directors, as one participant in the call put it, decided to end the situation where there was no chairman of the “Parade Inc.” – this so that there would be “no ambiguity” in the parade’s organization and running.
Dr. John Lahey was duly elected chairman of the Parade Inc. with John Fitzsimons as vice chairman. John Dunleavy’s chairmanship of the Parade and Celebration Committee was left untouched but the move shifted the center of power in the parade organizing structure – at least in terms of decisions as important as broadcasting rights and gay and lesbian group participation.
Looking to the 2016 parade, clearly a standout in historical terms, parade directors are hoping for full participation from New York City’s political leadership, not least Mayor de Blasio and the City Council who have boycotted the last couple of parades.
When reached by the Echo, Dr. Lahey said that the parade was a public event which required a license from the city each and every year.
Parade organizers, he said, had to be practical in their dealings with the city.
“The parade is bigger than any one of us,” Dr. Lahey said.
For his part, John Dunleavy, who is clearly angered by what has transpired, said that his “boss” was “the people who take part in the parade.”
He said that he would be examining and analyzing all that had occurred when he was out of the country, and only after that process was complete would he be making a statement.