By Robert J. McCarthy
Ever since the late Assemblyman Dick Keane and his pal Tom Blake started the annual St. Patrick's Luncheon at the Buffalo Irish Center 41 years ago, the festive event has always been considered the unofficial kickoff of the Western New York political season.
It was no different on Friday as hundreds of guests descended upon the Irish Center -- presided over this year by Buffalo Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder -- to sample corned beef and cabbage at a place where it's important to "see and be seen."
This year's event was especially marked by a gaggle of judicial candidates, with some observers estimating more than two dozen potential contestants for State Supreme Court, not to mention those making the rounds for Buffalo City Court. That caused several wags to suggest the organizers should have rented out a separate hall for judicial candidates alone.
Other than judge wannabes, the Irish Center was also "crawling with comptrollers." State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli made his annual appearance, proclaiming "the place to be to celebrate St. Patrick's Day is right here in South Buffalo."
He was joined by other "comptroller types" such as Schroeder, Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw and former Buffalo Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo.
Amid lots of Irish music and dancers, Bishop Richard J. Malone delivered the invocation and a dispensation -- of sorts -- from the traditional Lenten requirement of abstaining from meat on Fridays.
Malone said he has never granted a dispensation or ordered an ex-communication as bishop, but allowed a "commutation" if those partaking on Friday would abstain from meat some day in the next week.
"It's just not a freebie," the bishop said. "Fair enough?"