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Sidewalks with Tom Deignan
The Great Irish New Yorkers
October 10, 2008
Sidewalks by Tom Deignan
YOU might think New Yorkers would be fed up with these billionaire mogul types, given that they are the poster boys for the economic turmoil we are falling deeper and deeper into. However, Mayor Mike Bloomberg is pursuing a third term as mayor of New York City -– even though current law only allows mayors to serve two terms –- and there does not seem to be a great outcry.
This, of course, is bad news for any number of New York political types who were eyeing City Hall in 2009. Not surprisingly, a court battle is looming, spearheaded by a few of the politicians who were looking to run for City Hall, including Brooklyn Congressman Anthony Weiner.
Bloomberg’s quest to stay on as mayor is particularly bad news for the folks who thought the Irish might reclaim City Hall. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whose Irish dad is well known to be one of her most intimate, if informal, advisers, was seen as a leading candidate for mayor. Top cop Ray Kelly, though he has long denied interest in City Hall, was also seen as an attractive candidate.
Either way, it might have been hard for Kelly and Quinn to follow in Bloomberg’s footsteps. A recent survey of the 10 Greatest New Yorkers of the last 40 years found that four of the five experts surveyed named Bloomberg.
Kenneth T. Jackson, the Columbia University professor of New York history and dean of Gotham historians, dubb-ed Bloomberg “the best mayor in New York’s history. Bloomberg took over in the aftermath of 9/11, with an almost $5 billion deficit. Now our biggest problem is that too many people want to live here.”
It’s safe to say Bloomberg survived the irate protests of Irish bar owners who targeted him after the mayor spearheaded New York’s anti-smoking campaign.
The list of great New Yorkers was recently published in the 40th anniversary edition of New York magazine. So, if Bloomberg was one of the consensus choices as one of the most important New Yorkers of the last four decades, what Irish Americans made the list?
Hell’s Kitchen native and U.S senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan earned two of the five expert votes. He “worked both sides of the aisle, inspired others to do so, and was always in favor of what was best for New York,” said Agnes Gund, chairperson of New York’s Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission. “He never sold his soul.”
Ric Burns, best known for his 20-hour epic New York: A Documentary Film, added, “Moynihan’s life’s goal was to resurrect Penn Station. His legacy is the idea of a monumental gateway into the city, which in itself is the biggest meeting place on earth.”
The remaining Irish New Yorkers who made the “greatest” cut are an eclectic bunch, but they do represent key aspects of the Irish American experience. Moynihan, for example, is a handy symbol of Irish political dominance.
Then, there are writers. Jim-my Breslin, the great newspaper columnist, earned the vote of Princeton professor Joshua Guild. Breslin was the “media voice of the New York common person. There’s a lot of this city beyond Manhattan, and Breslin brought it to us,” said Guild.
Brendan Gill, the long-time writer for The New Yorker magazine, was also mentioned. Though that publication exemplified starchy WASP urbanity –- the very opposite of the Brooklyn and Queens world Breslin knew so well -– Gill has actually written at length about his own Irishness, Catholicism and the immigrant experience in the U.S.
The “enamored way (Gill) wrote about New York changed the many people viewed the city,” according to Gund.
Finally, there is a surprise choice from the sports world, tennis star John McEnroe, “a brat, yes, but also the improvisational genius of tennis,” according to Burns.
Lots of others on the list are tied to the Irish. Martin Scorsese explored the Irish in Gangs of New York, Goodfellas and other flicks. Tom Wolfe explored WASP-Jewish-Irish Catholic tensions in Bonfire of the Vanities and Bill Bratton, from an Irish enclave in Boston, led the nineties crime drop as police commissioner.
Who’s missing from this list? Pete Hamill? Frank McCourt? Paul O’Dwyer?
More importantly, which Irish will dominate New York over the next 40 years?
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