By Mark Weyermuller -
Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago might be the greatest or at least the craziest holiday of the year. It includes wearing your green, going to Irish taverns, dyeing the river green, and marching in a huge parade. Of course being Chicago, everything is political. I headed downtown sporting my green derby, some green beads, and a “Kiss Me I’m Irish” button.
Starting at nine in the morning on Saturday, thousands of people lined up on both sides of the Chicago River to watch Plumbers Union #130 dump green food dye in the river, taking about an hour to create a masterpiece. An estimated 50,000 people watched the boat go back and forth creating a beautiful green river. This tradition started on a lark back in 1961 under then-Mayor Richard J Daley. The Trump Tower looms in the background.
At noon the annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade kicked off along Columbus Drive heading north from Balbo Drive ending at the Chicago River. The parade was led by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel with the Prime Minister of Ireland Leo Varadkar as Grand Marshall. They were joined and overshadowed by Conor McGregor. McGregor, an Irish professional mixed martial artist and boxer is a former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweight and lightweight winner. He has become one of the most known athletes in the world, partly from his skills and his crazy antics. I did manage to chat with him and get a photo.
Others leading the parade on the “front line” included Governor J.B.Pritzker, Cook County Review Commissioner Michael Cabonargi, Secretary of State Jesse White, Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown, United States Senator Dick Durbin, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and mayoral hopeful Lori Lightfoot. Each VIP is given a huge green sash with their name on it.
Both Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot did press conferences before the parade for the Chicago media. Lightfoot was asked about Preckwinkle portraying herself as independent and not part of the Chicago Machine. Lightfoot said, “The reality is this: When you are a ward Committeeman, alderman, state central Committeeman, & head of the party, it’s really hard to say you are not part of the machine.” I did manage to chat with both of them and snap a quick photo. The election is in two weeks with early voting starting today.
Right before the parade starts the front line is organized with name placards, kind of like huge placemats taped on the ground to indicate where each dignitary stands. This year was a little more chaotic as the Irish prime minister had about a dozen United States Secret Service surrounding him and making a perimeter along with lots of Chicago police officers making security very tight.
Fourteenth Ward Alderman Ed Burke has a prominent spot in the front of the parade near the center of the dignitaries right next to Senator Durbin. I did not see him as he appeared to be a no show. He has been charged with attempted extortion, so he might be keeping a low profile. I cannot confirm if he squeezed in but I didn’t see him.
One of the largest matching units on the parade was the Sprinklers Pipe Fitters Union. They had several hundred marchers along a fire truck and a Dalmatian. Some day they hope to get legislation passed requiring all high rise buildings to be retrofitted with sprinklers. This could include all Chicago and suburban high rise buildings with sprinkler systems to help prevent building fires. This could cost property owners millions. Sprinklers are required on new construction high rise buildings.
While I discussed the politicians, there were over 125 other units in the parade included bands, bagpipers, floats, Irish step dancers, and even a train from the Canadian National Railroad. My high school Saint Ignatius College Prep had over 400 students marching.
All in all a fun day. Most importantly the election for Mayor is Tuesday, April 2, 2019. Don’t make any jokes but that’s a day after another big holiday. APRIL Fools Day. Any connection?