Previous St. Patrick’s Parade chair sues Lahey

By on October 21, 2015
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The former chairman of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee filed a lawsuit on Monday against President John Lahey, who took over as head of the committee this past summer.

John T. Dunleavy, the former chairman of 22 years, alleges Lahey unseated him and was fiscally negligent concerning a dispute over which television station will broadcast the 2016 St. Patrick’s Day Parade, according to court records. The suit claims Lahey chose to continue with a $175,000 contract with NBC to show the parade, even though Dunleavy said WPIX Channel 11 would televise the parade for free. However, the Irish Central reported in September that WPIX never formally offered to broadcast the parade. WPIX did not return a request for comment.

The board ousted Dunleavy as chairman of the parade in July because he was against allowing LGBT groups to march in the parade, according to the New York Daily News.

The parade received a lot of flack for its historical exclusion of LGBT groups. The mayor of New York City and the City Council boycotted the parade in 2014 and 2015 for this reason, according to USA Today.

As vice chairman, Lahey worked to get the LGBT group Out@NBC to march in the parade in 2015, a decision Dunleavy opposed.

“At a previous board meeting I indicated that the parade is not in the business of promoting any lifestyle: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, gay, straight,” Dunleavy said at an August parade meeting, according to Irish Central.

Lahey said in May that he would resign as vice chairman if the board did not allow another LGBT group to march, according to Irish Central. Since becoming chairman, he added a second LGBT group, Lavender & Green Alliance, to the parade.

Board members made this change because they wanted to celebrate “Irishness in all its forms,” according to an editorial for Irish Central.

“Parade Committee Chairman John Dunleavy has ruled the march with an iron fist,” the editorial said. “But he threw one too many punches after this year’s parade when he vowed gay groups would ‘have a hard time’ marching in 2016, and started negotiating with other TV networks for coverage next year.”

The editorial said there had been financial mismanagement while Dunleavy was chairman. However, the lawsuit states the committee is not in debt, but has $400,000 to its name.

Francis Young, Dunleavy’s lawyer, said this suit is not about whether or not LGBT groups can march in the parade.

“Bottom line was that there was a gay group that marched in 2015, so for Dunleavy it’s not a gay issue, that’s water under the bridge,” Young said.

For Dunleavy, Young said, it is upsetting that he dedicated 22 years of his life to the parade and is now no longer chairman. Dunleavy wants his position back, Young said.

The St. Patrick’s Day Committee meets three times a year in February, May and December. The lawsuit showed that around the May 2015 meeting, Lahey announced to the St. Patrick’s Day Committee that he was struggling to raise money for the 2016 parade.

The court records indicate that part of the money Lahey was trying to raise was to be used to pay a contract with NBC to broadcast the parade, which required a payment of $175,000 to NBC. WNBC had televised the parade in the past, but Dunleavy did not want the channel involved because of its part in Out@NBC marching last year, according to Irish Central.

Dunleavy then began to contact other television stations that would be cheaper than the NBC contract. It was part of Lahey’s job, not Dunleavy’s, to look for someone to televise the parade, according to Irish Central.

Channel 11 (WPIX) said it would broadcast the parade for free, according to the lawsuit. WPIX would also share some of the profits with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee.

Francis Comerford, an executive at NBC, is also the director of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc. He talked to Lahey about keeping the broadcast on NBC, rather than exploring the option of broadcasting on WPIX, according to the lawsuit.

“It is believed that the actions of Mr. Lahey were done more to benefit NBC, Mr. Comerford, Mr. Lahey and Quinnipiac University rather than to benefit the parade and its supporters,” the lawsuit said.

Court records show Lahey held a meeting in June 2015 while Dunleavy was away to discuss removing him as chairman of the board of directors for the parade. He also proposed having three hand-picked directors for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc., including an unnamed member from Quinnipiac University. Normally, those in the board know prospective members and can vet them, Young said.

“That was not the case here,” Young said. “John Lahey simply grabbed people he wanted to vote the way he wanted to vote.”

Instead of using the committee’s secretary director to take minutes at the meeting, Lahey had a Quinnipiac employee do it, which is against the group’s bylaws, according to the lawsuit.

“Some have referred to Mr. Lahey’s methods as secretive, misleading and deceitful,” the lawsuit said.

When Dunleavy tried to talk to Lahey about this, Lahey hired a lawyer. The court documents allege that Lahey is using Quinnipiac’s money to pay the lawyer.

Young said he thinks Lahey’s lawyer said this when they spoke over the phone, but he is not certain this is true.

“That’s my recollection. I think [Lahey’s lawyer] did indicate he was paid by Quinnipiac,” Young said.

The lawsuit also stated Lahey’s actions are being referred to as the “Quinnipiac Coup.”

“The foregoing exposes that the actions of John Lahey were a flagrant power grab from someone who had worked for decades to proudly present the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” the lawsuit states.

However, Pat Smith, the media liaison for the parade, said the entire board voted on these decisions with a two-to-one margin. Lahey did not take these actions alone, Smith said.

“We can’t dignify these baseless charges with a response,” Smith said.

The 2016 St. Patrick’s Day parade will be an important one, Young said, because it is the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, the rebellion that marked the beginning of Irish independence.

“I think Mr. Lahey wanted to be front and center for this special parade,” Young said.

The university would not comment to The Chronicle for this story.

CORRECTION: This article originally printed that Pat Smith wrote the editorial for the Irish Central, but this is not correct.

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