Michael Gannon, Journal News (NY), Jun. 24
The president of the city’s branch of the NAACP has landed in a pot of hot water, rather than gold, at the other end of the rainbow, after angrily calling City Council Majority Leader Liam McLaughlin a “leprechaun” at the close of a public meeting Tuesday night.
McLaughlin, at 5-foot-10, certainly does not resemble a leprechaun, the diminutive, elfish creature of Irish folklore. As an active member of the Irish-American community in Yonkers, however, the Republican 4th District councilman is not taking kindly to being called one by Karen Edmonson, the president of the Yonkers branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“If anybody else made some type of similar remark, everybody would be calling for their head,” McLaughlin said yesterday, joining Councilman Dennis Robertson, D-3rd District, in calling for Edmonson to apologize and resign.
Edmonson, however, refused yesterday to even say the comment was derogatory.
“It’s a Halloween term. It’s nothing,” she said after being told of complaints by McLaughlin and Robertson. “I only said it because he has red hair. I mean, my boyfriend is Irish.”
Edmonson, who attended the council meeting with dozens of other parents to express concern about the $50 million school budget deficit next year in a public hearing, reacted angrily at its close, when City Council President Richard Martinelli would not allow Minority Leader Sandy Annabi, D-2nd District, to ask McLaughlin in public about the collapse of a deal to close a $12.5 million hole in this year’s school budget.
“What about the $12.5 million?” Edmonson shouted as the meeting broke up.
McLaughlin, who has long been critical of the financial burden the NAACP’s desegregation lawsuit has placed on the city’s schools, responded to Edmonson by saying, “Why don’t you ask the NAACP?”
“I’m asking you, you leprechaun!” she shouted back.
McLaughlin’s immediate reaction was to mutter that Edmonson has “no class.” Edmonson’s comment, however, infuriated Robertson — who, like McLaughlin, is Irish-American — prompting him to call The Journal News yesterday morning and call for Edmonson’s resignation.
“You can’t have a leader of a fine organization like the NAACP making those kind of derogatory comments,” Robertson said. “It’s contrary to what they stand for.”
Robertson and McLaughlin both said they believed the comment was racist. Edmonson said they were being overly sensitive and refused to apologize.
“They’re fishing,” she said. “They’re trying to create controversy. I’m not going to be silenced, and I’m not going anywhere.”
Jim Rogers, managing director of the University of St. Thomas Center for Irish Studies in St. Paul, Minn., said calling someone a leprechaun is — whether the speaker meant it or not — more of a dismissive comment than a derogatory one. “A leprechaun is not somebody you take seriously,” he said.
While leprechauns are known as mischievous, even malignant, creatures in Ireland, in the United States, they are regarded as cute, happy-go-lucky beings, Rogers said. He doubted most Irish-Americans would regard being called a leprechaun an insult.
Councilwoman Patricia McDow, D-1st District, a member of the Yonkers NAACP who also heard the Tuesday night exchange, said the remark was inappropriate. So too, however, was McLaughlin’s response, in calling Edmonson classless, she said. She said Edmonson should not, however, have to resign over the remark.
“I’m sure all of us, at some point in our lives, have said something we didn’t mean,” she said.