The crowd listened attentively to the senators and congressmen. But it sang along with Joe Crowley.
Crowley was the last of the politicians to address the recent rally in Washington D.C. staged by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.
Speaking last can be tough, especially when your listeners are at the end of a long day of lobbying in the Capitol Hill summer heat.
Crowley had arrived in the room at the tail end of the rally and duly said his piece. But as is frequently the case, his reputation as singer and musician had walked into the room ahead of him.
Moments after concluding his remarks, Crowley was playing guitar along with the band that had been hired to rev up the proceedings.
Those ILIR members who were in Washington that day will recall knocking on the doors of many Congress members – to varied receptions.
But they will especially remember one particular congressman belting out the Star of the County Down – to a loud and enthusiastic reception.
Joe Crowley stands out in a crowd because he’s a big guy.
Getting noticed in the capital’s political throng, however, demands more than just six feet and a fair few inches.
But Crowley has been steadily making inroads in the 435-member House of Representatives – both as a rising star in the Democratic fold and as a legislator who can forge deals across the political aisle.
“He is ideally suited to the role of congressman,” said New York attorney and Democratic Party activist Brian O’Dwyer.
“He has been able to build coalitions across party lines and one reason for this is that it’s impossible not to like Joe,” the lawyer said.
Crowley, a Democratic Party chief deputy whip since 2003, represents New York’s 7th Congressional District, a 42-square mile, polyglot community that takes in a swathe of both Queens and the Bronx and has the highest population of any congressional district in New York State.
Name the ethnic group and Crowley represents it. As such, he has to be up to speed with Indian, Albanian and Turkish issues every bit as much as matters of importance to Irish-American voters.
A member of the House International Relations Committee, Crowley is well known to Irish-American voters for his co-chairmanship of the Congressional Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs.
He is probably less recognized in the Irish-American community for being founder and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Bangladesh.
Nevertheless, to Irish Americans who closely follow Irish issues, Crowley has been a knowledgeable and forceful advocate, seemingly for ever.
Crowley, indeed, got an early start in politics. He was barely out college when his uncle, New York City Council member Walter Crowley, died. Crowley wanted to succeed his uncle but Congressman Tom Manton, from his position as Democratic leader in Queens, backed his own chief of staff at the time, Walter McCaffrey.
But just a year later, Crowley, with Manton’s backing, ran for and won a vacant seat in the New York State Assembly.
In his House floor tribute after Manton’s recent death, Crowley described his congressional predecessor as a mentor, friend and confidante.
And he told of how Manton had paved the young Crowley’s road to Albany.
“Tom Manton tapped me on the shoulder at the County Cork Association dance on Greenpoint Avenue, and he said to me, how would you like to be the next Assemblyman from the 30th Assembly district? Why don’t you think about getting in that primary. And I did. I won a subway primary, with his support and under his tutelage.”
Manton and Crowley were not related. But they might as well have been. Both sons of Irish immigrants, they seemed to eat, drink and breathe politics as if it was a genetic imprint.
When Manton retired from Congress in 1998 he again placed his approving hand on Crowley’s shoulder.
Crowley, now with a dozen State Assembly years under his belt, described the invitation in more innocent terms than an offer he couldn’t refuse.
He said it was akin to being offered an ice cream.
Some rivals howled about patronage. Either way, from the moment of the Manton nod Crowley was all but booked on the first post-election shuttle flight to Washington.
Crowley has been returned to Congress every election year since then and this November he will be standing for his fifth term. Having won 81 percent of the vote last time out, Crowley’s prospects would seem more than just favorable.
Between state and congressional offices Joe Crowley has now notched up 2O years in politics; and he’s still only 44.
Given such length of service, it’s not surprising that Crowley’s fingerprint has been on just about every Irish-American political initiative since the Reagan years.
As a member of the New York State Assembly, for example, Crowley – with a little prompting from the Irish-American Teachers Association – was the architect of legislation that led to instruction on the Great Famine being included in New York high school history textbooks.
In an early demonstration of his ability to work with Republicans, Crowley found an ally in this effort in Governor George Pataki.
In October 2001, Congressman Crowley authored the 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor Act. The House and the Senate passed it unanimously.
The act called for a special Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor to be awarded to rescue workers who perished while responding to the attack on America.
Crowley’s authoring of the act was a response not just to the attack on his home city and his country. He had lost a firefighter cousin, battalion chief John Moran, in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.
The passing of Tom Manton has revived speculation that Crowley will soon ascend to the top job in the Queens Democratic Party Organization.
If that transpires, it will fuel additional guessing as to where the guitar strumming and, in political terms, still very young congressman, will ultimately direct his energies and ambition.
“He is the among the most effective members in the New York congressional delegation and he has the ability to keep all the groups together in Queens. That is why he is being constantly thought of in terms of leadership positions in the party,” said O’Dwyer.