By Susan Falvella Garraty
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Political tensions between Democrats and Republicans were mostly under the rug last week at a glittering Washington event organized to celebrate 25 years of Project Children.
The event, which recognized Project Children’s years of bringing over Protestant and Catholic children to the U.S. for vacations and work experience, was a resounding success, with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton fronting a star-studded guest list.
There were few empty seats in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater as Mrs. Clinton and other luminaries read selections of Irish poetry. The Donegal traditional band Altan performed, as did the Trinity Irish dance group from Chicago.
However, some tensions over President Bill Clinton’s impeachment battle surfaced during the event.
Mrs. Clinton reportedly offered only frosty handshakes to Buffalo GOP Rep. Jack Quinn, who voted to impeach President Clinton. Prior to the vote, Quinn was seen as Clinton’s best friend in the GOP-dominated House.
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Former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry, who has been publicly critical of the president, also got the cold treatment from the First Lady.
"It was all hugs and kisses for everyone," reported one backstage observer, "until she got to McCurry and Quinn — then it was just glacial."
Prior to the event, the lobby group Irish Americans for a Democratic Victory had asked the Project Children organizers to remove Quinn from the fund-raiser’s guest list.
The head of IADV, Stella O’Leary, wrote Project Children that she did not feel it proper that Quinn take part in the fund-raiser at the same time as Mrs. Clinton was asked to appear.
O’Leary’s group later backed away from forcing the issue, although it did express the hope that Quinn would back out of his own accord.
"It’s one of the most disgusting and most un-Washington things I’ve ever heard of — to vent your political spleen at the expense of children," was the reaction of Sally Quinn, former Style Editor of the Washington Post, but no relation to Jack Quinn.
The gala fund-raiser featured Mrs. Clinton’s reading of the Seamus Heaney poem "The Railway Children" and Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill’s reading of her own works, including "Poem for Melissa," "First Communion," and "The Language Issue."
Congressman Quinn refused to comment after his recitation of Pearse Hutchinson’s "Into Their True Gentleness."
A spokeswoman for Mrs. Clinton said the first lady did not have any problem appearing alongside a politician who had voted to impeach her husband.
But the feeling in the GOP camp after the attempt to ditch Quinn was a tad less conciliatory.
"The last thing the Ireland peace process needs is for politicians to be split apart," said John Mackey, top staffer for the GOP chairman of the House International Affairs Committee, Rep. Ben Gilman, himself a target of Irish American Democratic anger in recent weeks.
Mackey said he was incensed that domestic partisan politics had been injected into a charitable fund-raising event and worried about possible knock-on effects on the peace process.