By Robert J. McCarthy
In one of the semi-official rites of spring as well as of the Western New York political season, the bishop of Buffalo has always offered a dispensation from the Lenten obligation for Catholics to abstain from meat during the St. Patrick's Day Luncheon at the Buffalo Irish Center -- featuring mounds of corned beef and cabbage served family style.
But Bishop Richard J. Malone, at his first-ever appearance at the jam-packed affair on Friday, cracked that he wasn't letting the gathering of local pols and St. Pat's revelers off so easy. Indeed, he acknowledged he's not a fan of dispensing with Lenten obligations on Friday.
"Let's just say we're 'commuting' the abstinence," Malone told the crowd, adding he was issuing an alternative obligation for Friday's imbibing in the traditional Irish-American fare.
"It's up to you to choose another day of abstinence between now and Palm Sunday," he said, recognizing the crowd really didn't know what he was going to suggest.
"Got you nervous there for a moment, didn't I?" he cracked.
Abstinence or no abstinence, the 41st annual affair lived up to its traditional role of attracting practically every breathing pol in Western New York. As is his custom, state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli ventured westward from Albany, proclaiming it his favorite St. Pat's celebration in all of New York (and declaring his "P" middle initial stands for "Patrick" this weekend instead of the official "Peter"), while a phalanx of judicial candidates made the rounds with their official candidate nameplates.
Potential mayoral candidate Bernie Tolbert also attended while continuing to hint that he will run, but remains coy about when -- or if -- he will issue an official challenge to incumbent Mayor Byron W. Brown in this year's Democratic primary.
"I'll let you know," he said. Buffalo Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder presided as master of ceremonies, raising a toast to the late Assemblyman Richard J. Keane and his late pal, Tom Blake, who founded the affair to benefit the Irish Center in 1972.