Category: Archive

Tom Manton dead at 73

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Manton, a former grand marshal of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade and a seven-term member of the House of Representatives who retired from Congress in 1998, died in a Bronx hospital over the weekend. The cause was prostate cancer.
A Democrat and former co-chair of the congressional Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs, Manton held sway in New York’s 7th District for 14 years before paving the way for the current incumbent, Rep. Joe Crowley.
Manton’s retirement, at a time when he seemed to be at the peak of his congressional career, surprised many friends and observers at the time.
He had filed for reelection that year but five days after the filing deadline he announced his retirement, convened a meeting of top Queens Democrats and, from his position as head of the Queens County Democratic Organization, quickly secured the nomination of Crowley as the party’s candidate.
Crowley’s State Assembly District roughly matched the congressional district and with Manton’s backing, Crowley went on to easily win his House seat that fall. He also succeeded his mentor as an Ad Hoc Committee co-chair.
“I have worked for the citizens of this nation, New York City and Queens for most of my adult life,” Manton said at the time.
That work had been carried out under a variety of job titles: attorney, New York City Council member, city police officer and U.S. Marine.
It was as a member of Congress, however, that Manton came to particular prominence in Irish America.
He was active and vocal on Northern Ireland campaigning for, among other things, a U.S. visa for Gerry Adams and greater job opportunities for Catholics by way of the MacBride Principles.
Manton also came out in support of undocumented Irish immigrants during the 1980s, not least because so many of them lived in his district, which covered parts of both Queens and the Bronx. He spoke at rallies and was a crucial backer in the House for the Donnelly and Morrison visa programs.
It was, however, his control of internal Queens Democratic politics that caused some of the bigger and more controversial headlines of Manton’s public life.

The New York Times, in an editorial that followed his retirement announcement, attacked the manner in which Manton had effectively secured his congressional succession.
The editorial stated that anyone who wondered why New York was “cursed with an abysmally weak Congressional delegation” could find the answer in the circumstances surrounding the Manton resignation. And it chided Manton for devoting most of his time to district politics.
The editorial concluded by stating that, as a congressman, Manton would “quickly be forgotten.”
The editorial itself wasn’t quickly forgotten and prompted angry letters from both sides of the political aisle.
“Rep. Tom Manton’s achievements in Congress will be remembered long after the self-righteous pieties of the New York Times editorial board are deservedly forgotten,” Rep. Peter King said in a letter to the paper.
“Congressman Manton and I are of different political parties, but I have never met a person of greater integrity or dedication.” King wrote.
Praise and support for Manton also came from Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In a letter to the Daily News, Moynihan stated that Manton’s accomplishments were “legion.”
Moynihan, who died in 2003, particularly singled out Manton’s work for peace in Ireland and on behalf of the MacBride Principles campaign.
Observers noted at the time that while the Times editorial page was especially harsh in its criticism of Manton, the paper’s Metro section report was suggesting that Manton’s departure was likely to erode New York’s influence in the nation’s capital.

While politics brought its ups and downs, and praise and criticism in abundance, Manton’s proudest moment as an Irish American was greeted with mostly cheers.
Manton, whose Irish roots were in Roscommon and Mayo, was chosen to lead the 1994 New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The Echo reported at the time that Manton’s position at the head of the parade, alongside newly elected Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, would give the parade a degree of political clout it had not enjoyed since the ILGO controversy had erupted in 1991.
There were protests on the day, but the Manton-led parade proceeded without any serious hitch.
As was the case during his life, Tom Manton’s passing drew warm words from fellow politicians this week.
“I will miss my friend and mentor Tom Manton, whose legacy as a strong leader of the Democratic Party, a great Congressman and a kind-hearted, generous individual with so much integrity will continue,” Rep. Joe Crowley said.
“I have lived by his example in many ways, and always admired Tom for his work on Irish issues and helping to move the Irish Peace Process along. As co-chairman of the Congressional Ad-Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, Tom fought hard for peace and justice in Northern Ireland, and his work led to real breakthroughs and successes. In Congress, Tom was always a fighter for the people of his district, and he worked hard to ensure their needs were met.”
“Tom’s importance and his courageous leadership cannot be overstated, ” said Crowley. “His death is a monumental tragedy not only for Queens, but the city and the country.’
“Tom Manton was a great congressman and an outstanding Irish American,” Rep. Peter King said in a statement.
“I knew him for more than a quarter of a century and was proud to say he was my friend. He will be sorely missed,” the Long Island republican said.
Rep. Richard Neal, like King and Crowley, a co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee, said that Manton had been a particular friend.
“I walked the streets of West Belfast with Tom Manton at a time when it was very hard to persuade members of Congress to go to Belfast,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.
“Congress and the United States of America were well served by his presence. He was one of my favorites,” Neal said.
“Tom Manton epitomized dignity, genuineness and gentleness in political service, while gathering countless friends and, remarkably, not creating enemies even when he had to say ‘no,'” former New York Assemblyman John Dearie said.
“He was a giant on whom we all took very special pride,” said Dearie.
“Tom Manton’s quiet leadership was an inspiration to us all. He represented the best of our people. He possessed a strong moral compass along with a tremendous skill in bringing New York’s diverse groups together,” said attorney and Emerald Isle Immigration Center chairman, Brian O’Dwyer.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee chairman John Dunleavy described the former grand marshal as “an extremely fine Irish Catholic gentleman.”
“They don’t make politicians like him any more. He was honest and straightforward, what the Irish American politician is all about,” Dunleavy said.
Manhattan-born and a resident of Astoria, Queens, Manton is survived by his wife Diane, four children and four grandchildren. A funeral Mass will be held Friday at St. Sebastian’s church in Woodside, Queens.

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