No regrets, but I miss my Parade of memory: the pageantry, the pride, the bagpipes the bars. But not my fellow marchers, I have to say. When cops drank afterward at the Emerald Society Bash at the cavernous St. George Greek Orthodox Church on Ninth Avenue at 60th Street, then later at the Irish bars along Second and Third Avenues from 86th Street on down to the last stop, Molloy Malone’s at 22nd Street—we’d be shouting at each other over the din of the pipers parading up and down the aisles while ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ blared simultaneously from jukeboxes. You got tired, hoarse and drunk, in no particular order. Being in my 40s, I’d grow impatient with my comrades, but make allowances for the policewomen.
Albany is still held hard by a Tammany Hall-style Democratic Party. Not surprising when you consider that the City has been run by a total of three Mayors in the past 72 years. Erastus Corning, the first, held sway from 1941 till his death in 1982. He was a very hands-on politician as was the real power behind the throne, Boss Dan O’Connell, who ran the Democratic Party like his private fiefdom for even longer, till he died in 1977. Next was Mayor Thomas Whalen, in office a mere ten years, till Jerry Jennings took over twenty years ago and shows no sign of leaving. Although there are some black leaders in Albany—all Councilmen or women—this is definitely not a New York City kind of City Council. By some sleight of hand in revising the City Charter awhile back, Mayor Jennings must approve whatever the Council passes. No wonder he is loathe to leave. Blacks comprise one-third of the population of Albany, which is 94,000-plus, but have zero political clout. The Irish and Italians, the longtime residents, wield local power. Whenever I take a ride in the black urban ghettos of this City—Arbor Hill, West Hill, the South End—I come away wanting to get Al Sharpton on the horn and tell him he’s urgently needed.
How describe the Irishness of Albany today? I’d say bland, washed-out. I had to drive nine miles to a venerable Italian restaurant in the Lansingburg section of Troy last St. Patrick’s Day to get a good plate of Corned Beef and Cabbage. Yet, there is a vestige of Old Irish Albany. I think of him as The Last Irishman, the novelist William Kennedy. He put Albany on the literary map in the early 1980s with his cycle of Albany novels: “Legs,” “Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game” and “Ironweed.” There’s no better guide to Albany’s labyrinthine politics than Kennedy’s novel, “Roscoe.” And for the global view, “O Albany,” his encyclopedic biography of his hometown.
Maybe I’m just at an age where a seat at the Ringling Brother Barnum & Bailey Circus beats standing room at any parade.