By Patrick Markey
It should have been St. Patrick’s day. But in New York, at least, Hillary and Rudy stole the show.
Washington politics eclipsed Irish-American pageantry along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue on Friday as Hillary Clinton marched in her first New York parade along with, but not too close to, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, her opponent in their campaign for the U.S. Senate.
Beside the green top hats and painted shamrocks, placards for both candidates popped up almost as frequently as $1 tricolor flags. And on what seemed more like the mayor’s home turf, Clinton collected the greater number of hecklers as her contingent made its way uptown.
Of course, wherever the first lady goes, so too do the TV cameras and her ever-watchful protection unit. Marching with City Council speaker Peter Vallone and Rep. Joe Crowley, the Clinton entourage followed a floating scrum of TV cameras and was flanked by a rearguard of Secret Service agents.
Ahead of the first lady, and sporting a green baseball cap for the day, Giuliani marched alongside New York Gov. George Pataki.
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The unexpected snow and biting winds did little to dampen the day’s political banter. For many it was a chance to cheer a future senator and jeer at an opponent and mug for the cameras. There were jokes about carpet-bagging and cookies, both nasty references to Clinton. When Clinton made a reference to being a New Yorker, the mayor joked that he hoped she didn’t get lost on one of the city side streets.
One inventive sign writer had managed to combine two themes with a placard calling for Britain out of Ireland, Clinton out of New York. And the first lady’s support team worked frantically pressing shamrock Hillary stickers onto as many jackets as allowed as her opponents screamed for Clinton to go back to Arkansas.
"We think she just doesn’t represent New Yorkers and we want a change," said Kathleen McCreary, who came to boo Clinton with friends who carried signs reading, "We’ve had our fill of Hill and Bill."
Emer Casey couldn’t disagree more. A Democrat, she said she supported the first lady’s social programs and would also vote to stop the mayor moving to the Senate.
"I can’t stand Giuliani. I’ll be glad to see the back of him, I think he’s a nut," she said.
But Friday’s political flavor was a distraction some could have done without.
"We’ve got a parade to run here, move along," shouted one frustrated march organizer as the camera crews flocking around Clinton delayed the marching progress once again. Another marcher decked out in a top hat and tails pleaded with a few nearby police officers to pull off the media hounds. He had little luck.
The parade had become a thorny issue for the Clinton campaign as Irish gays and lesbians protested her participation in an event that has banned them for a decade. Two weeks ago she participated in a Queens parade that included several Irish gay groups. But the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization have made it clear it believes Clinton should have stayed away from the Manhattan parade.
Just before the march kicked off, several hundred gay and lesbian protesters gathered at 59th Street to hold their annual demonstration against exclusion. ILGO had promised 2,000 protesters.
"It’s ridiculous that they can’t march in a city like New York," said Cathy Maguire, who had come to support her sister and other ILGO members.
Chanting "We’re Irish, we’re queer and we have the right to be here," about 70 protesters were arrested after they tried to hold an unofficial march on Fifth Avenue. Police in riot helmets carried the protesters on to a city bus before booking them for civil disobedience. About 50 gay, lesbian and transsexual Irish had made the trip from Ireland to support their New York brothers and sisters.
At a news conference after the march, Clinton said she believed the Manhattan parade should be inclusive and said she would speak up for that, according to the New York Times. But she defended her decision to march this year.
"When you’re in public life, you have to balance a lot of different values, and today we’re marching on behalf of Irish Americans and in favor of the peace process," she said.
But that would bring little comfort to ILGO. The group could not be reached for comment this week.