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St. Patrick's Day will pre-empt village elections

The law was billed as a way to promote Irish heritage. But did they stop to think that it would strip Irish candidates of their clear advantage?

St. Patrick's Day -- when the road rises up to meet the real and wannabe Irish -- cannot double as Election Day for villages in New York.

A state law says so.

Which means this year's Village Election Day will be Wednesday, March 18, rather than the traditional third Tuesday in March -- St. Pat's Day this year, March 17.

Which also means that those Irish candidates who were counting on the magic of the holiday to bless them at the polls must, alas, return to earth.

State law has rained on their certain parade.

Surprisingly, village candidates like Patrick Kelahan do not have a heavy heart. The loss of his lucky charm hasn't fazed him one bit as a challenger in the race for mayor of the Village of Wilson in Niagara County.

Yes, Kelahan is an Irish-American, but he's not that Irish-American.

His favorite Irish food isn't even corned beef and cabbage.

It's soda bread. And neither he nor his wife drink, he said.

You might think, as Kelahan did, that New York's prohibition on village elections taking place on St. Patrick's Day goes back decades, to Tammany Hall political machinery perhaps.

Actually, it first came down after the elections of 1998. That was the last time that the third Tuesday in March fell on March 17 -- thought to be the day of St. Patrick's death in the fifth century.

The ban was sponsored by two downstate legislators, then-Sen. Nicholas Spano, R-Yonkers, and then-Assemblyman Joseph Crowley, D-Queens, and signed by a governor up for re-election, George E. Pataki. It was designed to promote Irish heritage and drive such electioneering distractions out of that special day.

Neither legislator was inclined to ignore Irish voters. Crowley once drafted a bill to mandate that New York's public schools teach that Ireland's Great Famine of 1845-50 was a human rights violation, similar to genocide, slavery and the Holocaust.

As expected, eyes smiled on the lawmakers for passing the bill making the ban permanent. Crowley in 1998 won his first race for Congress. Spano would lose an election years later but then land in one of the luckiest jobs of all: lobbyist.

Before 1998, the villages that were still holding their elections on the third Tuesday in March were given the option to move them if they fell on St. Patrick's Day. Now it's a mandate being applied for the first time this year.

The affected villages have just accepted it.

"I have heard no pros or cons either way," said Debra Smith, who is handling this year's busy election in the Village of Sloan. "People say OK. It's moved."

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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