By Ray O’Hanlon
What was billed as potentially the biggest Irish-American political donnybrook for many years in New York has turned into a damp squib following the withdrawal of Democratic City Councilman Walter McCaffrey from his congressional race against Queens Rep. Joe Crowley.
The withdrawal makes Crowley’s reelection to Congress a virtual certainty.
McCaffrey withdrew after questions were raised over his campaign finances, particularly with regard to the use of livery cabs by the non-driving councilman.
It was reported that the Queens Democrat wrote more than $50,000 in checks drawn from a campaign fund to himself over a two-year period.
While he argued that he had "done nothing wrong," McCaffrey admitted that the revelations had "cast a cloud over the campaign."
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Separate from the financing questions, however, McCaffrey’s campaign was struggling to match Crowley’s money-raising abilities. Crowley’s committee had nearly $500,000 in the bank as of June 30, compared with $273,000 for McCaffrey, according to federal figures.
McCaffrey admitted that fund-raising problems had also played a part in his decision to withdraw from the race.
McCaffrey has been a popular political figure since he was first elected to the City Council in 1985. He was an early and prominent supporter of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement’s campaign.
Crowley, a former state assemblyman, was the choice of former 7th District congressman Tom Manton when Manton retired from Congress in 1988.
Manton retired at a point in the year when it was too late for potential successors to file candidacies. As Queens County Democratic leader, Manton was then in a position to handpick a successor. Crowley was his choice.
The absence of an open race to succeed Manton angered many Queens Democrats and was a spur to McCaffrey’s decision to run against Crowley.
Crowley, who is rated by the San Francisco-based Northern Ireland Alert congressional monitoring group as one of the most active representatives in Washington on Irish issues, now faces no opposition in the Democratic primary set for Sept. 12.