New York Congressman Joe Crowley’s 50th birthday bash at Sidetracks Irish bar and restaurant in Queens was packed to the gills on Sunday afternoon.
The amiable Joe was where he likes to be best, up on stage with his band, blasting out rock and roll and old Irish standards and meeting and greeting hundreds of supporters.
Speaking of wonderful old Irish standards, his evergreen mother, Eileen, from Co. Armagh was able to sing with the best of them, belting out “The Boys From the County Armagh.”
Joe is about number four in the pecking order for Democrats in the House right now and could well be speaker someday. Nancy Pelosi is not getting younger, and Joe would be a major player when she leaves.
Not that he doesn’t hold power now. He is the King of Queens, the boss of the Queens Democratic Party, the last great political machine in New York politics.
It is thanks to Crowley and his mentor/predecessor Tom Manton that this is the case. They have an old fashioned Irish sense of discipline and power broking that this fractured city could do with on many levels.
It is fashionable to knock political machines these days, but in an era when politics is as corrupt as ever and nothing ever seems to get done the old style politics, which produced heroic men like Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt and others, looks better and better.
If Christine Quinn becomes mayor of New York City, as she is favorite to do next year, it will be because the Queens machine picked her out of relative obscurity and made her speaker of the New York City Council. How many Irish and lesbian major city bosses have we seen in history?
Also present on Sunday to pay homage to Joe was the ubiquitous Senator Chuck Schumer, who never seems to tire of flesh pressing, glad handing and boosting his native city.
Fresh from marching in several St. Patrick’s parades, with more to come, Schumer, the third ranked leader in the Senate, mixes a brilliant blend of local know how and bonhomie with an unparalleled political brain and clout.
Schumer has been to so many Irish events that he can even sing some of the Irish songs and he proceeded to do just that.
(At one point I even found myself on the stage, singing with my brother, Fergus, the minister for New Era in Ireland, who dropped in to wish Joe well during a visit to New York).
It was that kind of evening, which on the surface was a good old fashioned Irish party, but underneath all that was a deeply sophisticated political operation turning out the numbers and the fundraising.
It is not just about the Irish. Visit Crowley’s office and you will quickly realize that he represents the most diverse Congressional district in America.
Walk with him through his district as I have done and you will hear 70 separate languages, and see large Indo Asian enclaves that make it a fascinating mix of new cultures and political needs.
It is the new America, starry-eyed dreamers from many cultures who make this country great. It is good to know that Joe Crowley has a stake in that future for them.
When it comes to his people in New York, whether they’re Irish, Asian, black or white, Joe Crowley delivers.
By Niall O'Dowd, Irish Central