By Ray O’Hanlon
MacBride Principles boosters are taking particular satisfaction over the election of Gray Davis as governor of California. Davis is a staunch MacBride supporter in a state considered to be the "jewel in the crown" by the MacBride campaign.
The closest MacBride came to being passed into California law was seven years ago. But the bill, endorsed by the California legislature, was vetoed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.
With Wilson’s successor, Davis, now heading for the State House, the MacBride campaign is expected to emerge from hibernation. The extent of the turnaround is underlined by the fact that Democrat John Burton, main sponsor of that vetoed bill, now finds himself Majority Leader in the California State Senate.
A California MacBride bill, signed into law by Davis, would be a juggernaut if linked to the state’s huge pension fund, currently valued at $129 billion. This figure is exclusive of the state’s major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. San Francisco has passed its own MacBride bill. L.A. has not.
The election of Davis, on top of the recent federal MacBride triumph, comes just as some Irish American activists are expressing unease with what they say is British government backsliding on fair-employment legislation.
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The Irish American Labor Coalition has expressed "profound disappointment" that the "modest and practical proposals" of the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights with regard to fair-employment goals and timetables "have again been ignored by the U.K. government."
Meanwhile, should California pass MacBride, only Ohio will remain as a top 10 industrial state declining to embrace the nine fair-employment guidelines named after the late Sean MacBride.
The dust settles
The U.S. political landscape, viewed through Irish eyes, is looking a tad changed after last week’s midterm elections. Newt Gingrich’s departure will mean a new House Speaker with unreported views on Ireland, or total lack of same. Tom Manton and Joe Kennedy are riding into the sunset, as will Daniel Patrick Moynihan in a couple of years.
The New York Senate race saw two candidates with Irish resumes slug it out. Democrat Chuck Schumer’s presence in the Senate is expected to be fruitful from an Irish-American point of view. As for the defeated Al D’Amato? He was endorsed by a number of groups, including the Westchester Irish Committee, which pointed to a variety of issues on which D’Amato took a positive stance. "IF" would add that back in 1992, D’Amato called for political asylum for Joe Doherty. Should Doherty now make it back for a visit, he should probably give Al a call. D’Amato, of course, also had the capacity for slipping on his own banana skins, such as the time he joked that Christopher Columbus could not have been Irish because there was no booze on any of his three ships.
And speaking of three. Three of the co-chairs of the Ad Hoc Committee, Ben Gilman, Richard Neal and Pete King were returned. The retiring Manton, of course, is the fourth.
Gilman’s reelection is important. The chairman of the House International Relations Committee has been one of the most influential figures in an Irish-American context over the last couple of years. Gilman crafted and steered federal MacBride legislation through Congress and has been prominent in other matters, such as the deportees.
Another returned Republican, Chris Smith of New Jersey, heads the Subcommittee on International Relations and Human Rights and is particularly concerned with cleaning out the RUC.
Meanwhile, the vacancy on the Ad Hoc Committee is attracting interest. The committee must have two Democrats and two Republicans at the helm. King and Gilman fill the latter requirement while Neal is the surviving Democrat. The Democratic vacancy will likely be filled by one of two individuals. Bronx Rep. Eliot Engel is interested. The other possible contender is freshman congressman and successor to Tom Manton, Joe Crowley.
Crowley got married recently and is on his honeymoon this week. Politics can certainly wait. As a member of the New York State Assembly, Crowley was the architect of legislation that will see instruction on the Great Famine in Ireland included in New York high school history textbooks. Crowley, of course, found support in his effort from reelected New York Gov. George Pataki.
Also in New York, Friends of Ireland chairman Jim Walsh won by the proverbial mile in his upstate district. A far cry from 1996, when columnist Robert Novak had him "running for his life" because the AFL-CIO was backing his Democratic opponent with big bucks.
Gerry Adams is south of the border this week — the U.S./Mexico one. In Mexico City, Adams will attend an art exhibit on Bloody Sunday. Our Gerry will doubtless appreciate the tinge of irony given that he will only be a short distance from the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, where, on Oct. 2, 1968, Mexican troops gunned down protesting students. Forty died by official estimate. As many as 600 were slain, according to unofficial counts. A visit to the southern state of Chiapas is not on the Adams itinerary. Pity. What a photo it might be. Bearded Gerry, with pipe, and pipe-smoking Subcommandante Marcos, leader of the Zapatista rebels. A terrorist chic duet.
Joe’s free weekend
Joe Doherty finally made it out for the weekend. The last time he expected to spend a free Saturday night was back in December 1984 when New York judge John Sprizzo ruled his offense in Northern Ireland to be political. On that basis, immediate bail was expected. The late Paul O’Dwyer and then Nassau County Comptroller Pete King went to court to speak up on Doherty’s behalf. King recalls that Doherty’s attorney, Mary Pike, was most concerned that Doherty would make it out of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in time for the weekend. That particular weekend was, of course, a complete bust. The one just gone, on the other hand, was one to remember in both the Doherty and Pike households.
As the page turns
The Sunday Independent was in flying form last weekend with a front page story referring to a report in the "Boston Echo" and a page three story which cited the "Irish Echo." "IF" was tempted to turn to page four in the hope that the "Honolulu Echo" is more than just a quixotic dream.