Being mayor isn't like being president — instead of being protected by a phalanx of press people, talking directly to the media only rarely, on highly scripted occasions, you have to speak off the cuff every day, in front of all kinds of different citizens. Which is why mayors tend to deliver verbal gaffes a lot more than other types of politicians. That's what happened yesterday when, before a gathering of the American Irish Historical Society, Mayor Bloomberg told the following anecdote, as recorded by the Daily News:
He noted he lived near the Irish society's Fifth Ave. home, and, on St. Patrick's Day, was used to seeing "a bunch of people that are totally inebriated hanging out the window waving."
He actually got boos from this, even though, let's be honest, anytime there's a parade in New York there are drunk people hanging out of windows on Fifth Avenue. Even the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! (Ever been to the Gay Pride March when it gets to the Gold Coast? There are men who live in those buildings only so they can throw cocktail parties on that day!)*
"I know, that's a stereotype of the Irish," Bloomberg said, realizing he'd screwed up a bit. "Nevertheless, we Jews from around the corner think this."
If this was a stand-up comedy routine, the gags would have gotten a few tepid laughs and nothing more. But since it was an Actual Cultural Event, celebrating the launch of a book called Celebrating 250 Years of the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade, some people decided to get offended. "It was ill-advised to make a statement like that," John Dunleavy, chairman of the St. Patrick's Day Parade committee, told the News. "The remarks are highly, highly offensive to any Irish person ... I don't think he would say a joke like that to any other ethnic group. It was totally uncalled for and unbecoming of the mayor."
Okay, first of all, have you met the guy? He'd definitely make that joke about anyone. And second of all, he obviously didn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings. And third of all, HELLO?**
"I certainly didn't mean anything that anybody should take offense to," Bloomberg said. "I was talking about a party they have every year on St. Patrick's Day, where it's traditional to hang out the window and yell and scream, and it's all in good fun."
Okay, that last part was maybe a misstep. When apologizing for calling an ethnic group a bunch of alcoholics, it's maybe best not to structure it in a way where you end up saying "It's not like I was calling you noisy drunks, I'm just talking about that time when you all get drunk together and make noise!"
Irish eyes not smiling on Mayor Bloomberg after stereotype joke about drinking [NYDN]
*Did you see how I made fun of the Gay Pride Parade and not, say, the Puerto Rican Day Parade? This was Bloomberg's real mistake. When making fun of drunks, stick to your own kind!
**I'm also Irish.