“Good evening. It is a pleasure to be with you tonight and all of the distinguished honorees. I would like thank Mairtin O Muilleoir and Ray O’Hanlon and the Irish Echo Newspaper for all the work you do on behalf of the Irish community and for hosting tonight’s event. I am honored to accept this Community Service Award.
“Let me begin by saying I am a proud Irish-American. It is the Irish-American culture that has prepared me to serve my community and the City of New York. The Irish-American values – such as hard work, persistence, fighting for justice and believing in people – are what drive many of my decisions today.
“My family, and my background in organized labor, has taught me that through public service I can make a difference.
“Over three generations of my family have been dedicated to public service in New York. My grandparents came over from Ireland in 1919 – my grandmother from Cavan and my grandfather of Louth – and they settled in Maspeth, Queens. My grandfather then became a proud member of the NYPD. In fact, both my grandfathers were police officers.
“My father, Walter, married my mother, Mary, in 1960 and over the next 20 years they grew our family size to 12 daughters and 3 sons—fifteen children in all. I was born the fourteenth of the fifteen. I have asked my mother quite a few times why she and my dad had so many children, and the answer was always the same: Just be happy you’re alive, how many of your friends have 14 brothers and sisters! I think they were just hot for each other.
“There is something about growing up in a household with 14 siblings that really teaches you how to fight for what you want. Just imagine the scenario of 12 girls getting ready for Sunday Mass or for school all at the same time. But it was at the kitchen table that our family shared the most. There were always conversations about current events—there were plenty of laughs, some fights, some tears and a lot of different points of view. I am happy to say that all my brothers and sisters came out alive and my mom is the proud grandmother of 45 grandchildren. Tonight we are joined by a number of my siblings.
“Most people in politics and the Irish community know my cousin U.S. Congressman Joe Crowley. Joe is one of the most effective members in the House of Representatives. Joe has been a mentor and has shown me that being elected to office means you have been entrusted to serve with integrity; that it is our responsibility to serve as a voice for those who are unable to speak for themselves.
“The struggles of growing up in a big Irish family taught me how to fight—but it was my experience in organized labor that trained me to understand the important of having a strong voice in government for our working people.
“After college, I followed one of my passions as a painter and joined D.C. 9 International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. With D.C. 9, I worked to restore and preserve some of New York City’s most historic landmarks such as Radio City Music Hall, Central Synagogue and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was my work with D.C. 9 that shape me as an advocate for the needs of our working families.
“The Irish have been instrumental in building and protecting New York—and the history of the Irish in America is the history of the labor movement.
“That is why I’m concerned about what is going on in Wisconsin. There are forces that are not trying to balance budgets—they are trying to break unions. This is not democracy—this is union busting. As an Irish American I see that as trying to break a part of our heritage and I stand with our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin and I hope you will as well.
“The reality is the labor movement everywhere is under attack. As Chair of the Fire & Criminal Justice Services Committee on the City Council, it is my job to make sure we are protecting the safety of all New Yorkers by protecting those who protect us.
“I would like to recognize some our city’s heroes here with us tonight, Steve Cassidy, Jim Slevin and members of the UFA and Al Hagan, Eddie Boles and members of the UFOA. We are also joined by the President of the Massachusetts Firefighters Edward Kelly.
“As a Member of the City Council, I am determined to continue to fight for a stronger community, for our public safety and for good education. That’s how I hope to bring service to politics and I am so grateful to have your support.
“Our ancestors came here in search of a better life—and that’s something all of us share in America. And so my fellow Irish-American women and men, I will conclude with a vision expressed by one of our great New York Senators, Robert F. Kennedy: ‘Few will have the greatness to bend history – but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.’