Category: Archive

House of jitters

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

In New York, as the longtime conventional wisdom goes, anyone interested in a political career from City Council to State House to Congress is required to be up to speed on the “three I’s.”
Ireland, Israel and Italy have not gone away but they are being shouldered aside to one degree or another this year by Iraq.
So if you’re an Irish-American politician with a lengthy pedigree on matters relevant to South Armagh, you would do well to be just as attentive to, and knowledgeable about, the recent bloody turn of events in the Southern Iraqi city of Amara, where British troops are to be found patrolling streets devastated by sectarian fighting in a country largely wrought by British cartography.
The potential political tsunami that is the Iraq war could have significant ramifications for Irish-American members of the House of Representatives on Nov. 7.
In what would pass for a normal election year, sitting members could generally rely on their very incumbency and a reasonable record on district issues to guarantee reelection.
This would still appear to be the case for Congressman Joe Crowley, one of the two Democratic co-chairs of the congressional Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs.
Crowley is strongly favored to be returned without too much difficulty in his New York City district, the ethnically polyglot seventh, which is comprised of a collection of neighborhoods reaching from Queens into the Bronx.
Crowley is facing a Conservative Party candidate who has the backing of the local Republican Party, but few are taking bets against the man who heads the Queens County Democratic Party following the recent death of Tom Manton.
If Crowley’s race looks like a bit of a breeze, Richard Neal has a hurricane behind his back. The Massachusetts Democrat, the other Ad Hoc co-chair, does not face any opponent at all.
Being in such enviable positions, at least from a strictly partisan point of view, Crowley and Neal do not have to look for lobbying and financial support to the likes of the Irish-American Democrats lobbying and fundraising group.
As such, the IAD is this political season free to focus on races it believes can help turn the present GOP House majority into a Democratic one.
Among the 15 Democratic challengers being backed by the Irish-American Democrats are three named Murphy: Lois Murphy in Pennsylvania’s sixth district, Pat Murphy in that state’s eighth, and Chris Murphy in Connecticut’s fifth district.
By sharp contrast to the situation facing incumbents Crowley and Neal, and other Democratic House incumbents such as Brian Higgins in New York’s upstate 27th district, 2006 is posing a range of more uphill tasks for Irish American Republican House members than might have been expected even just a year ago.
Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs co-chairs Peter King and John Sweeney are both having to deal with viable Democratic challengers.
The same goes for Congressman Jim Walsh, longtime chairman of the Friends of Ireland group in Congress and the man behind the Walsh visa program.
Walsh is an 18-year incumbent who romped home in the 2004 race in New York’s 25th District but who this time around faces a determined opponent in Democrat Dan Maffei, a onetime TV reporter who also has experience as a political backroom operator and press spokesman.
Walsh’s district has a significant Irish-American population. Irish voters match German Americans at the top of the 25th’s ethnicity table at 13.9 percent.
It is in tight races such as these that attention to the finer details can make a decisive difference on Election Day.
For Walsh, and other GOP Irish American House legislators, one detail that could prove crucial in races that are only a handful of percentage points apart is their response to a crop of questions being posed to all House and Senate candidates by the umbrella group, the Irish-American Unity Committee.
In late September, the group sent out a questionnaire asking candidates from both parties to outline their positions on a variety of issues of concern to Irish America.
The issues selected by the group include restoration of the elected devolved assembly and full implementation of the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Policing in the North; calls for a full, independent inquiry into the murder of Belfast attorney Pat Finucane; potential legislation which would exempt Irish nationals from deportation for convictions relating to the conflict in the North “who demonstrably present no threat to the safety and security of the United States.”
The group also asked candidates to explain their positions on comprehensive immigration reform.
“As Irish Americans make their decisions in the days before the upcoming elections they want clarification from their potential elected officials on these issues,” the committee said in a statement.
The committee is comprised of members from the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Americans for a New Irish Agenda, Brehon Law Society, Irish American Unity Conference, Irish Deportees of America Committee, Irish Northern Aid and the Irish Parades Emergency Committee.
One GOP House member who might want to get his replies in especially quickly is John Sweeney who represents the New York 20th House district. Sweeney, along with Peter King, is a Republican co-chair of the congressional Ad Hoc Committee.
Sweeney has a real battle on his hands, according to the Albany Times Union.
Back in may of this year, Sweeney told the Echo that he felt “very confident, very strong” about his candidacy. He did acknowledge at the time, however, that it was going to be a competitive year.
“Sweeney is among the Democrats’ top targets this fall as they try to wrest control of the House from the GOP. He is facing the toughest re-election challenge of his congressional career from Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand,” the Times Union reported in recent days.
Sweeney, though a co-chair of the Ad Hoc grouping, has a less obvious record on Irish issues than his GOP colleagues Jim Walsh and Peter King.
Observers, meanwhile, will be keeping a particular eye on King’s battle to retain his seat on Long Island where he too faces a determined Democrat, Dave Mejias.
King, though he has incurred scorn from some Irish Americans for his current opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, has one of the longest running track records on issues of particular interest to Irish Americans, stretching as it does back to the 1980s when he was Nassau County Comptroller.
In addition, King has more money in his campaign coffers than his opponent and his district has a track record of being solidly Republican at the polls.
Still, it appears that even King, who chairs the house Homeland Security Committee, would be ill advised to take his race lightly.
“Political observers from both parties say this will be King’s toughest challenge in years, though few expect Mejias, a Democrat and a two-term Nassau legislator from North Massapequa, to best the seven-term Seaford Republican,” Newsday reported.
“King, 62, is a highly recognizable public figure and is viewed favorably by 57 percent of voters in his district, according to a poll conducted last year on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee,” the paper added.
But that was last year. King, as will be the case with all his incumbent GOP colleagues, will be campaigning flat out until voting day.
Then it will be a matter of seeing where the dust, and a whole bunch of political careers, finally settle.

Next Week: The Senate.

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