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Both St. Patrick’s Day parades canceled for second straight year: alderman

Last year, City Hall spent days insisting both parades would go on, despite pressure from Gov. J.B. Pritzker and others. This year, said Ald. Brian Hopkins, the decision is much clearer: “If you’re a government leader and you make the wrong decision now in 2021, it is unforgivable.”

The Shannon Rovers at the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The Shannon Rovers at the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
James Foster/Sun-Times file

For the second straight year, Chicago will be forced to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day without the back-to-back, downtown and South Side Irish parades that have been the colorful holiday’s most entrenched traditions.

Downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said the downtown parade scheduled for March 13 has been canceled and the same goes for the South Side Irish Parade down Western Avenue, scheduled for the following day.

To prevent community spread of the coronavirus and its variants, City Hall will “not be issuing any permits for parades or large gatherings in the first quarter” due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although it pains him to say it, as a proud Irishman, Hopkins said canceling both parades is the only call to make. There is simply no alternative to prevent “the type of activity that the parade inspires — not just the crowd watching the parade itself, but throughout the day,” he said.

“Bars routinely violate their fire codes. … People are packed shoulder-to-shoulder for an hour waiting to get in. It’s just a recipe for spreading the virus. We can’t sanction it. … If we wait for the [coronavirus] variants to establish a foothold and start spreading and then we cancel the parade, it’s too late,” Hopkins said.

“Anyone could have potentially been forgiven for making the wrong decision on St. Patrick’s Day 2020. If you’re a government leader and you make the wrong decision now in 2021, it is unforgivable. There is no excuse. The science is clear. St. Patrick’s Day should be canceled.”

Tim McSweeney, chairman of the South Side Irish Parade, said the decision to cancel the neighborhood parade for a second straight year will come as a bitter disappointment to the bars and restaurants that line Western Avenue.

They’re fighting for survival after being forced to stop serving indoor patrons twice during the pandemic. A daylong parade of customers would have been a sorely-needed shot in the arm, he said.

“It’s a letdown. We’re disappointed to say the least,” McSweeney said.

“It’s definitely an uptick for the businesses. And the kids look forward to it. Moms, dads, kids — everyone looks forward to the South Side Irish Parade.”

McSweeney said the parade committee is working on “some ideas, some ways we can come up with to celebrate what would have been parade day, celebrate our Irish heritage, celebrate the neighborhood.”

Last year, City Hall spent days insisting both parades would go on, despite pressure from Gov. J.B. Pritzker and others to cancel both events as Boston and Dublin had already done.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot finally pulled the plug less than a week before St. Patrick’s Day. Bars and restaurants were crowded anyway.

Hopkins said Tuesday he understands why Lightfoot hesitated. She was “in the untenable position of getting contradictory advice from credible sources,” he said.

“You can’t rely on expertise when expertise is canceling each other out. So you almost want to fall back on the court of public opinion and say, ‘If the experts don’t agree, what would be the popular decision?’ The popular decision last year was ‘Let the party go on,’” Hopkins said.

“She knew that there would be such a backlash and an outcry and people calling her a party pooper. That actually did happen over the course of this pandemic. There’s been a very strong contingent of vocal critics that will target any elected official who wants to pour cold water on the fun.”

The dyeing of the Chicago River and the subsequent parade downtown have been yearly traditions since 1962. In addition to throngs of local officials, politicians from all over have donned green and marched, including then-Vice President Al Gore in 2000 and then-President George W. Bush in 2002.

The South Side Irish Parade dates back to 1979, when a handful of kids from the neighborhood marched around the 10900 blocks of South Talman and South Washtenaw avenues.

Within two years, the parade grew and marchers traveled south along Western Avenue from 103rd Street to 115th Street, which remains its current route.

With scores of Beverly, Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood residents claiming Irish lineage, raucous house parties in the neighborhood are as much of a tradition as the parade itself.

After 2009’s celebration, organizers opted to put the event on hiatus after local Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) said the parade had been “hijacked by idiots” who drank themselves into a stupor.

The South Side parade returned in 2012 with a renewed focus on being family friendly. To encourage good behavior, police warned anyone caught drinking or urinating on the public way could be subject to fines over $500.