Volume 76, Number 21 | October 11 - 17, 2006

McCourt talks on mondegreens and running as a Green

By Ed Gold

Malachy McCourt, a 75-year-old, roly-poly part leprechaun who has worked as a dishwasher, longshoreman, actor, author and talk-show host — and who has also been an alcoholic and jailbird — has answered a new calling: political candidate. He is running for governor of New York State on the Green Party ticket.

He has been off the hard stuff for 21 years, is roaming about the state on a shoestring campaign budget, and has choice words for his key competitors, the Democrats’ Eliot Spitzer and the G.O.P.’s John Faso.

“These guys are really deadly,” he declared. “They have never worked a day in their lives, and they are both equivocators.”

He was a guest on WBAI when a woman called in and, noting that McCourt talked a lot, asked, “Why don’t you do something?” She was from the Green Party and said she suggested the idea of his being a candidate, because, as she put it, “You have name recognition that could get us some votes.”

It meant “giving up my private life,” McCourt said, but he decided, what the hell. While he has no illusions about winning, he feels he can raise issues and present policies that neither of his opponents would touch.

“I have the same concerns Lincoln had,” he said seriously. “He favored government of, by and for the people, and what we’ve got now is government over the people.”

McCourt has a few central principles:

“There is no such thing as a just war,” he argues. “Most of the people who get killed are women and children, bystanders and innocent. The leaders who take us into war should be required to lead the troops into battle.”

He also feels that the nation has been “corrupted by corporate money, and candidates who take corporate money are corrupted by it. Corporations have only one interest — to make a profit.”

He has special words about George Bush: “He is a walking disaster. He is an evil man. You could call him the president of corruption.”

He does not spare Senator Clinton or Schumer, “who betrayed us in Iraq,” he insists.

While definitely Irish, McCourt is just as definitely not Catholic.

“You know,” he said, “the St. Patrick’s Parade is not an Irish event, it’s an event for practicing Catholics only. None of the really famous Irishmen could qualify as grand marshals at St. Pat’s; they were almost all Protestants.”

He does participate in the Queens St. Pat’s for All Parade. which welcomes the L.G.B.T. community.

“Frankly,” he said with a smile, “I’d be nervous walking down Fifth Avenue with 125,000 Irish behind me. And I might add that I really have no desire to kiss the cardinal’s ring.”

He does have a rather unique platform, including a host of items not likely to be mentioned by other candidates:

“I would turn the National Guard into a civilian environmental corps,” he said. “I would scour the state for metal waste and recycle all of it. I would discourage the eating of fried foods.

“I would provide insurance against sickness,” he continued. “No one should be bankrupted by illness, and no one should make a profit from someone’s illness.”

He would also bring back rent control on a broad scale, repeal the Taylor Law, which bars public employees from striking, provide free education up through college and free public transportation.

In a McCourt-run state, children would only be allowed to eat organic foods and “sugar would be treated as a controlled substance.”

He contended that “the only Upstate industry today is prisons.” He would like film studios built in Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse.

While older brother Frank became superfamous with his story of poverty in Ireland in “Angela’s Ashes,” Malachy has hardly been inactive on the writing front.

Even with very little formal education he has authored eight books and many magazine articles.

“My first book was on the Times’ bestseller list,” he said proudly. It was a memoir about his years after leaving Ireland and was called “A Monk Swimming.”

A favorable Times review called him “a charming rascal.” It told of a freewheeling life of a man of adventure who frequently got into trouble. But McCourt has a more complicated side.

“The book title is a mondegreen,” he explained to a stunned listener. He noted a mondegreen has a funny side to it; it’s a mishearing of a phrase in such a way that the phrase acquires new meaning.

McCourt’s favorite mondegreen is based on a line in The Lord’s Prayer: “Lead me not into Penn Station.”

As for “A Monk Swimming,” the true title of the book would be “Amongst Women,” which apparently filled a lot of his traveling time.

He can rattle off Yeats and has also proven to be an actor of many parts, playing a “genial terrorist” in one of the soaps, and William Jennings Bryan, who took the Bible literally, in “Inherit the Wind.”

During his drinking days he learned a serious lesson. Unemployed, he had gone to Fire Island, filled up with bloody marys, and found a job as a Bible salesman.

“I didn’t sell very many,” he recalled. “I learned you have to believe in your product to be a good salesman.”

His bad memories of Ireland led to his drinking but, happily, booze finally depressed him and he kicked the habit.

His home life is stable. He has a long-term second marriage with wife Diana. They have a total of five children, three from earlier marriages. He has lived in the same house on 93rd St. and West End Ave. for 41 years.

His campaign literature has an occasional light touch: “You don’t have to be Irish to vote for me,” and “Don’t waste your vote. Give it to me.”

He helped get 30,000 signatures on Green Party petitions, is not shy about asking for money, which, he notes, is “the mother’s milk of politics,” would stop calling New York the Empire State because “it sounds imperialistic,” and jokes about his Manhattan home becoming the governor’s mansion.

There is a suspicion that he will focus on writing and acting after November.

On the other hand, he could run for president. He was born in Brooklyn.

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