2016-03-23 / Front Page

Queens Chamber Of Commerce’s Holds St. Patrick’s Day Lunch

By Thomas Cogan

At the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s St. Patrick’s Day annual luncheon, QCC President Albert Pannisi said there were 300 in attendance high atop Terrace on the Park and several had to be turned away.  On an overcast but mild day near the end of winter, luncheon guests had the usual splendid view to enjoy and the usual luncheon speech and Irish dancing to look forward to, the latter holding in reserve a special delight and a departure from tradition.  The luncheon speaker was Police Commissioner William Bratton, who received a long introduction from Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and, at her behest, got a standing ovation before he’d said a word.

The borough president spoke of a citizens’ social partnership with the police, in a city where some 130 languages are spoken.  In his two separate terms in charge of the police, Commissioner Bratton has been considerate of Queens, she said.  Bratton began his address with a little ethnic identification, saying he is Irish but also Scottish in his ancestry, Bratton being a Scottish name.  (He identified an Englishman as his hero:  Sir Robert Peel, who organized the police in London in 1829.)   His New England accent has become quite familiar in New York, where he has served as police commissioner for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the 1990s and Mayor Bill de Blasio currently, in between serving as police commissioner in Los Angeles for seven years.  He said he first came to New York in 1990 when appointed commissioner of the transportation police (later incorporated into the larger police force by Mayor Giuliani), in the administration of Mayor David Dinkins.  Things were different a quarter-century ago, he recalled, and not fondly.  The crime rate was high, with the frequency of murders, burglaries and car theft, among other major and minor crimes, disturbing the city.  In attendance at the luncheon was Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, whom Bratton hailed as being linked to the decline in the crime rate that traceably began in 1993, when Brown was elected district attorney.  Comparing those days and these, Bratton said, “We’re never going back to that.”  

He said there are five vital elements in running the city’s police department at this time.  The first is trust, which he said must be improved between the department and the public.  The second is technology.  No police department in the world spends as much on tech as this one, he said.  In his time, the department has evolved from flip charts to smart phones and more.  The third is training.  He said it is of highest importance to keep improving skills, from firearms to personal relations.  The center of training is the new, $750 million academy in College Point, which the commissioner called the largest such facility in the United States, and from which 1,300 officers, the largest class since 2001, will graduate.  The fourth is anti-terrorism, which has of course grown hugely in a period he called 15 successful years.  One result of the experience is that the police now deal better with the emotionally disturbed, he said.  Last of these elements is the use of new tactics and innovations, such as model precincts or paying several bills with forfeiture funds.

He said that public order is of prime importance and he would enforce it in this election year if necessary.  He wanted his listeners to realize that police officers face a lot of adversity and referred to one of them, present at the luncheon as an honored guest:  Steven McDonald, who was shot and paralyzed in the line of duty in 1986, yet remained on the force.  The commissioner said he was proud to promote Steven McDonald to the rank of detective during his first round as commissioner and to do the same in the second with his son, Conor McDonald. (Also present as was Patti McDonald, wife to Steven and mother to Conor, who was celebrating her birthday that day.)

Nancy Hirten, of the Hirten Irish Dance School, brought along a troupe of young women, most of them early adolescents and teenagers, though three of them, who introduced themselves as Beatrice, Grace and Juliet, were eight, eight and seven years old respectively.  They were the first to dance and were quickly surrounded by photographers both professional (the few) and amateur (the many).  The older dancers then had their turn.  Hirten said the little ones were not too early to start dancing; she had begun at age three.  She said traditional Irish dances are mainly jigs, reels and hornpipes, but the dance that followed would have modern, rather experimental music (recorded).  And so it was.  It seemed to be blues-oriented and was sung by a woman sounding a little like Adele.  What’s important is that the girls could dance to it and did.

Live music came from the band called Brogue.  Presentation of the flag was by Explorer Post 2241 of the High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety, in Jamaica.  After the Pledge of Allegiance, the national anthem was performed by Brianna Sheridan, a student at St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows.  Thomas Grech, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, closed the festivities by saluting Plaza College, the business school on Queens Boulevard in Kew Gardens, for being the chamber’s first, therefore oldest, member organization.  The chamber has been around since 1911 and Plaza College has been there with it.   

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