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Brooklyn memories: St. Patrick’s Day, 40 years ago

Paul O’Dwyer, John O’Hara and NYC politics, back in the day

March 17, 2015 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In this 1975 photo, John O’Hara, left, stands next to then-City Council President Paul O’Dwyer. In the rear, right, is then-Comptroller Harrison J Goldin. Photo courtesy of John O’Hara.
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A photo taken during Brooklyn’s first St. Patrick’s Day Parade, 40 years ago in Park Slope, brings back a bundle of memories for Brooklyn attorney John O’Hara.

In the photo, O’Hara, left, immersed in politics even as a young teen, stands next to his mentor, storied Irish-American City Council President Paul O’Dwyer. The man in the background to the right is then-Comptroller Harrison J. Goldin.

O’Dwyer, president of the New York City Council and a celebrated progressive, successfully fought for controversial defendants and underdogs, including Jewish Americans prosecuted for smuggling arms to Israel, labor unions and black civil rights activists. He was born the youngest of 11 children in County Mayo, Ireland.

“I was 14 years old in this picture. It was 1975,” O’Hara told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday. “I knew O’Dwyer from his 1973 campaign for City Council President. Me and a bunch of other guys opened a campaign headquarters, which was a storefront in Sunset Park on 5th Avenue between 62nd and 63rd streets.

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“It was a much simpler time. Storefronts were cheap and nobody heard of a campaign consultant,” O’Hara reminisced. “The campaign headquarters didn’t even have a telephone. A bar across the street named Molloy’s had a phone booth. A guy at Molloy’s worked for the phone company and he rigged the payphone so you didn’t have to put a dime in it — it was free calls. We thought we died and went to heaven.

“The free payphone was the best kept secret in the neighborhood,” he said. “It was where the poor Irish went to make their calls. Today you’d get life without parole for that,” he said.

“When I ran for City Council in 1991, I called Paul O’Dwyer to invite him to my fundraiser,” O’Hara said. “I hadn’t spoken to him since his run for U.S. Senate in 1976. He picked up the phone and started talking to me like we had breakfast that day. He came to my fundraiser with his son Brian.”

O’Hara added, “Paul was a great man.”

Goldin, a former NYS senator, served as comptroller from 1974 to 1989. (He is currently a managing director of Goldin Associates.)

At first glance at the photo, Goldin appears to be talking on his cell phone.

“No, he was not on his cell phone,” O’Hara clarifies. “Back then nobody even heard of a fax machine.” Closer scrutiny appears to show a cigarette in his hand.

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