By Ray O’Hanlon
Project Children founder Denis Mulcahy moved this week to prevent a political row from spoiling an upcoming gala event in Washington, D.C., to mark the 25th anniversary of his charity.
The row centers on a long-standing invitation to beleaguered Buffalo Rep. Jack Quinn, one of a number of GOP congressmen being targeted by the lobby group Irish American Democrats.
Quinn, along with other House members such as Rockland County’s Ben Gilman, aroused the ire of IAD after they recently voted to impeach President Clinton.
Quinn’s vote had particularly infuriated the group because he was long seen as a particularly close friend of the president, despite the fact that the two men were in different parties.
IAD last week requested that Project Children strike Quinn from the invitation list for the anniversary event, set for next week at the Kennedy Center.
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Quinn is one of four GOP Capitol Hill politicians highlighted in the program that gives star billing to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
However, Mulcahy has rejected the idea that Project Children’s door be closed to Quinn at this late stage.
"He is still invited. I’m expecting him to attend and he will be there," Mulcahy told the Echo Tuesday.
Mulcahy, who was in Northern Ireland on Project Children business, said that Quinn had long been a friend of Project Children, a group that brings Catholic and Protestant children from Northern Ireland to the U.S. every year for vacations and work-experience programs.
"We would rather leave politics out of Project Children. We have managed to do that for 25 years. It is unfortunate this has come up," Mulcahy, the Irish Echo’s Man of the Year in 1998, said.
The charity has had to walk the tightrope of Northern Ireland politics during its lifetime, but Mulcahy said he wanted domestic U.S. politics to be left at the front door.
"Little did I know that we would get involved in the middle of American politics," he said. "But there is a need for us to work with both sides here."
He said that Gilman, who has also been singled out for opprobrium by Irish American Democrats, was also expected at the gala event.
Stella O’Leary, who founded IAD in Washington, said her group was still pressing ahead in its campaign to unsettle and unseat Quinn, who represents a largely Democratic district.
"Quinn thought he could do this and still be a friend of the president. It’s mind boggling," O’Leary said.
She said that her group had written to Quinn asking him to step aside from the Project Children event for the sake of the First Lady.
But with regard to Project Children itself, O’Leary said that IAD did not now intend to pursue its initial request that the charity rescind its invitation to the fourth term congressman.
"We have nothing against Project Children. We have enormous respect and regard for it," she said. "We felt it necessary to register our disapproval of his presence, but there will be nothing further on the matter."
However, the campaign to replace Quinn with a Democrat in 2000 would proceed "full swing," the Project Children event excepted, O’Leary added.
IAD last week took out an ad in the Buffalo News urging Irish Americans to rally behind President Clinton and reject Quinn at the polls 22 months from now.
The Echo’s efforts to contact Quinn before presstime were unsuccessful.
Quinn was the focus of the Michael Daly column in last Sunday’s Daily News. The column described Quinn attempting to shake the president’s hand before the State of the Union address last week.
Daly wrote that as Clinton came close to Quinn in the aisle, the president had suddenly wheeled away from the man described as the president’s best friend on Capitol Hill.
"Quinn was left standing with his hand out as Clinton proceeded to the podium," Daly wrote.