A clearly delighted George Mitchell on Monday evening at the New York Athletic Club. Photo by Dominick Totino.
By Ray O’Hanlon
George Mitchell only accepted the offer to lead the 255th New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade when he was assured that the parade would include organized gay marchers, and that the issue that had so dominated the parade story for a quarter of a century had been resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned.
As it turns out, Mitchell will be leading a parade that, for the first time, will include a specifically gay Irish marching group taking part as a result of being invited by parade organizers.
In an interview carried by the New York Times, Mitchell said that he had agreed to lead the parade only when assured that the gay group marching matter “had been fully resolved.”
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“I asked to be briefed. What I was told is the issue has been satisfactorily resolved to all concerned, and I said in that event I’m happy to accept,” he told the Times in the interview which was published Monday.
There will be two gay and lesbian marching units in this year’s event, one of them made up of NBC employees, the other, the Lavender and Green Alliance, a distinctly Irish grouping led by veteran campaigner Brendan Fay, who attended Monday evening’s introduction of Senator Mitchell as grand marshal held at the New York Athletic Club.
The Athletic Club event was billed as a press conference, though the room was filled with community members and members of parade affiliated organization in addition to media.
The parade press release stated that the Parade Board of Directors had named Mitchell as grand marshal.
The dais for the event included board chairman Dr. John Lahey and parade executive secretary Hilary Beirne, who was master of ceremonies.
Also on the dais was Irish Consul General in New York, Barbara Jones, Senator Mitchell and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, grand marshal of the 2015 parade.
Absent from the event was former parade committee chairman John Dunleavy. His recently elected successor, John Tully, as well as other recently elected committee members, were in the room, though as part of the general audience.
During the course of the one hour event, the aides to the grand marshal were named and introduced.
But the formal installation of Senator Mitchell and his aides will not take place until Sunday, February 21, and that ceremony will be at Antun’s in Queens.
The aides are: Tom Mullany for New York County; Timothy O’Donoghue, Bronx County; Bridget O’Brien, Queens County; Virginia “Gina” Sheehan, Kings County; Jack King, Richmond County; Regina McGannon Begley, Nassau County; James Walsh, Suffolk County; Alice Droogan, Westchester County; Kevin G. Donohoe, Rockland County; Kevin Dooner, Orange County; Martin Dunne, United Irish Counties; Keith Lavallee, Grand Council, Emerald Societies; Eddie Dowling, Knights of St. Patrick, and Geraldine Johnson, who is aide-at-large and whose father fought in the GPO in 1916.
In his remarks at the Monday evening gathering, Hilary Beirne looked ahead to what he said would be “a year of peace and reconciliation.”
Consul General Jones said that a perfect grand marshal (Cardinal Dolan) was passing the parade baton to “a most perfect grand marshal.”
Jones congratulated the parade organizers on their “wisdom” in choosing Mitchell.
Dr. Lahey thanked the “parade committee” for continuing to work with the board of directors.
He also delivered a “special salute” to John Dunleavy.
Nobody had given more to the parade over four decades than the former parade committee chairman, Lahey said.
Lahey also said he wanted to recognize Dunleavy’s successor, John Tully, who was “here this evening.”
Senator Mitchell, who is 82, but evidently in robust health, delivered a response to his hosts in an address that was humorous, pointed and reflective.
His audience responded with evident enthusiasm.
He spoke movingly of his mother and father, she an immigrant from Lebanon, he the son of Irish immigrants.
Growing up in Maine, his family had always been poor and his parents had died penniless. Despite this, they had made sure all their five children had attended college.
“Each of us lived lives that would have been beyond the imagination of our parents,” Mitchell said.
His family and America, he said, had made it possible for him to do what he had done in his life and “to stand before you tonight.”
“I am deeply, deeply honored,” the newly minted grand marshal said to a standing ovation
Mitchell’s position at the head of the parade, meanwhile, could also be a lure for some politicians who have absented themselves in recent years.
Mitchell is a Democrat, as is New York Mayor Bill De Blasio who boycotted the last couple of parades because of the absence of a gay Irish marching group. Democrats also dominate New York City Council which has been an absent grouping in recent years for the same reason.
The Times story that included the interview with Mitchell reported a spokesman for Mayor de Blasio as saying that the mayor was “reviewing” whether to march in the parade, now just two months away.