Confusion jpg

Dubious history made as New York parade postponed

Governor Andrew Cuomo


By Ray O’Hanlon

For the first time in its recorded history there will be no march in the month of March in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in New York City.

The Manhattan parade has been postponed due to the coronavirus contagion, though it might march later in the year, in the summer, or perhaps the fall.

The announcement of the postponement/delay, came at the end of a day of confusion Wednesday.

The main pressure for a cancellation on Tuesday, March 17 had come from Governor Andrew Cuomo who has been highly proactive in recent days on the coronavirus front.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

“While I know the parade organizers did not make this decision lightly, public health experts agree that one of the most effective ways to contain the spread of the virus is to limit large gatherings and close contacts, and I applaud the parade's leadership for working cooperatively with us," Cuomo said in a statement.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted late Wednesday that the parade would go on, “whether it’s in the heat of summer or on a clear fall day."

Confusion had reigned all day Wednesday over the fate of the parade, the 259th consecutive. Reports indicated that Governor Cuomo had taken the decision to cancel the parade making it the latest victim of what has been a cascade of parade and event cancellations over the past few days.

Earlier Wednesday, a well-placed source had told the Echo to expect news of a cancellation.

But other reports seemed to suggest that the axe hadn’t fully fallen.

This from the Daily News: “The luck of the Irish may still hold.

“After a report Wednesday that New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade was canceled for the first time in more than a century over coronavirus fears, the organizers of the beloved event released a statement saying the parade is still on.

“The parade’s official organizers denied the cancellation report, saying in a Facebook post that a decision had not been made yet.

“Mayor de Blasio had so far resisted canceling the event. The mayor claimed on Wednesday that fewer people would be able to spread the virus during an outdoor event like the parade because the coronavirus appears to transmit with

“’It’s not a slam dunk to say this is something that should be instantly canceled, on the other hand there are real concerns,’” de Blasio said then. “’The part of the parade that leads to indoor gatherings I am very concerned about.’”

And there was this in the New York Post: “The St. Patrick’s Day Parade become the latest victim of the coronavirus on Wednesday, as sources said the fete was being scrapped over contamination fears.

“An insider on the committee told The Post that the world-famous annual celebration of Irish culture down Fifth Avenue was indeed canceled over coronavirus concerns, despite a waffling New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“’My understanding is that de Blasio wasn’t in the middle of it,” the source said. ‘De Blasio was less than helpful. He dithered. He wouldn’t make a decision one way or another.’

“Instead, Parade Chairman Sean Lane and Gov. Andrew Cuomo stepped up to make decision to cancel the beloved parade, held annually since 1762, the source said.”

Continued the Post report: “When asked about word of the cancellation at a press briefing after that meeting, Hizzoner was befuddled.

“’We’re waiting for confirmation,” said de Blasio. ‘We heard that, too, but again, from the information I had and the last conversation that was not confirmed.’

“Mayor de Blasio had publicly mulled scrapping the parade, but signaled earlier Wednesday that he would lean heavily on organizers’ opinions.”

According to the Post report, Governor Cuomo’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his role.

“And the parade committee insisted that the parade was yet to be officially canceled, despite sources saying the decision had been made.”

“’At this point in time contrary to the media outlets and social media no decision has been made to cancel the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade,’” the committee wrote in a tweet.

Stated the Post report: “Sources say the official cancellation was being postponed to get past tonight’s big gala, which costs $500 a ticket with tables going up to $50,000, and journal ads at $5,000 a page.”

Speaking live on MSNBC Wednesday evening, Mayor de Blasio was asked about the parade.

He responded: “First of all, what we're looking at with that parade is the whole picture, again. It's an outdoor event – outdoor events are inherently safer than crowded, small space indoor events. We're working on a plan now – and I hope we can shape this up and articulate it clearly – that we want – it's not that people can't go to dinner together, it's not that people can't go to school together.

“It's creating the smart kind of balance, not crowding too many people into two small a space who are the most vulnerable people. What do we know about this disease? Consistently, here in America we're seeing it, here in New York we're seeing it. It is much less a problem for younger people than older people, much less a problem for healthy people than folks with those preexisting conditions. To shut down the lives of everyone healthy is a mistake. But to create some smart balance, and particularly to protect those most vulnerable, is smart. We're going to be working with the folks who organize the St. Patrick's Parade to make a decision soon, and certainly well before the parade happens. “But when you look at everything out there – you're right, it's a crowded city, there are special conditions. I think the thing to think about is, we're not trying to shut down human life in this city.”

By Thursday morning the situation had become starkly clearer but not fully clear.

Governor Cuomo had not joined Mayor de Blasio in delivering the parade a rain check.

But what was clear was the enormous disappointment that would be felt by parade organizers, participants and those who were planning to line Fifth Avenue on a day that will now look at first glance like any other in Manhattan – though, in a time of coronavirus, it will be anything but.