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Dispatches from Hong Kong

 

Monday, April 3, 2017

24 Hours Before Departure

 

While I gladly accepted the invitation of a good friend to visit Hong Kong, I’m not sure I totally thought through the enormity of the trip. A seasoned traveler for sure, this one brought much more than just an overnight flight across the Atlantic, and a time difference leaving few hours I wouldn’t be awake with my clients back in the US.

 

I researched, studied, and of course took to social media to connect with others in the part of the world I’d be visiting, hoping to make  my time there as worthwhile and memorable as possible, yet I felt I still had little comprehension of what I was really in for!

 

With meetings scheduled with various organizations whose remit, to connect globally through business, mirror my own efforts and interests, and invitations to more than one social event, my calendar for this very brief trip was already well full. I hoped, of course, to take in some of the sights as well!

 

I was grateful for the opportunity to meet Anthony Mak, Director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s New York office, for a bit of pre-planning, and for his introductions to his colleagues in Hong Kong whom I’ll meet on this trip.

 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Waiting for Take Off

 

Well positioned in my seat (bulkhead leaving me plenty of leg room), and staking claim to both arm rests, I was as anxious about who my row mates would be as I was about what the next 16 hours of flying would bring. Captain Bob made his way down the aisle introducing himself and shaking hands like he’s running for office. Announcing that he’s nearing retirement, it was easy to assume that he’d soon be playing a role in United Airline’s PR department!

I was stocked with snacks, had hours of downloaded entertainment on multiple devices, was carrying a couple books and some magazines I had yet to catch up on, and, if feeling extra ambitious, even brought some “work” that I’d hoped to get off the “to do” list!

 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Touchdown in Hong Kong

Not to jinx myself for next week’s return flight, but 16 hours in the air really “flew” by. A couple movies, a Friends marathon, some reading, and a reasonable amount of sleep made the time pass more pleasantly than I expected

No problem navigating Hong Kong Airport, barely a glance from the man behind the immigration desk, and as the YoutTube video promised, an easy route to the Airport Express Train and I was whisked into Hong Kong’s Central Station. A well organized taxi queue meant we kept moving, and after a short ride up some winding and steep roads, I made it to my destination! The downside, if there has to be one, to the ease of travel, is that I’d gone from airport to train to taxi to house, and really saw very little along the way. There would be time for that though!

 

 

Thursday, April 6

Waking Up in Hong Kong

The jet lag and time difference has body clock out of kilter, hence the post as the sun is coming up.

Floor to ceiling windows in my room for my four day stay looked out on traditionally urban high rise residential buildings, with the  accompanying sounds of a waking city, yet the plush greenery below, and noises of nature,  gave a distinct feeling of calm, likely a welcome respite for the many  thousands of residents that return home there  every day after facing the hustle and bustle of the main business districts I see from the other side of my host’s home, and that I was preparing to head into in just a few hours.

 

Thursday, April 6

First Impressions

 

No matter how many times I gave address in English, and the taxi driver repeated it back to me in Cantonese, we just weren’t going to understand each other! Though we did come together on “U Turn”! Thankfully it was nothing some patience and Imaps couldn’t handle!

I arrived in Wan Chai, one of Hong Kong’s busier commercial areas, about an hour before my first meeting, just enough time to stroll around the block and find what could only be referred to as the local version of a “greasy spoon” for a quick breakfast. With a Starbucks or other well known coffee shop on every corner, this one, Bread Tree Express, had a line out the door and seemed a bit more intriguing for a visitor who too often frequents the more well known franchises while traveling. A quick, and aptly named for its simplicity, egg and cheese sandwich, served on two slices of white bread with crusts removed, and a Coke, provided some quick fuel to begin the day.

With well dressed business people scurrying to work, many with their heads down in their iPhone, aggressively large cup of coffee in hand, nothing, other than the prevalence of surgical masks, and the laborer scaling a high rise in what appeared to be a shoddy bamboo framed scaffold, struck me as much different than other cities I have visited.

 

Thursday, April 6

Networking Meetings

 

My first scheduled meeting was with David Donnelly, a 33 year, Irish born veteran of the Hong Kong Police Department. I was already waiting at our designated meeting point when he arrived, leaving absolutely no question that he was the man I was there to meet. His stature, and general presence, definitely made him stand out from others that had a walked in the door, and those I had shared a crowded sidewalk with just moments before. Our only connection being through a seemingly random LinkedIn invite I sent a few days previous, Inspector Donnelly’s mannerisms indicated a bit of curiosity, with, as many others in his line of work would, inhibition. He wasn’t going to let his guard down too easily.

 

True to his Irish nature, once I explained my work in the US around public safety unions, and assured him I had no motive in meeting him other than to learn about his career, he was soon regaling me with stories of his many years doing police work half a world away from where he was raised. His mannerisms and obvious enthusiasm for keeping others safe allowed me to quickly draw parallels between him and my clients and friends of the Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association. As is often the case, learning of his business success outside of police work, and his real estate empire that he looks forward to growing in his retirement, was as fascinating as his work on the job. I was honored to present him, on behalf of their Executive Officers, a shirt bearing the crest of the JCPOBA, a small token that again illustrated the incredible bond that exists among those that have given their careers to law enforcement.

Next I  headed to meet with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC). Already aware of HKTDC’s efforts to promote Hong Kong  trade, I looked forward to learning more about their local efforts, and digging a bit deeper into their strategies geared towards engaging potential supporters and building networks around the world. I was greeted warmly by Chaucer Ma, Executive Trainee, and quickly impressed by his enthusiasm, and, despite less than two years in the “real world”, his knowledge of the job, recognition of the important role his organization plays in Hong Kong’s economic success, and apparent shared respect for the value of building relationships that are more than transaction based.

 

Apologizing profusely for her lateness, Anne Chung, Manager of International Relations, soon arrived adding a new energy to the conversation. Practiced in my business card etiquette in Asia, we comfortably exchanged contact information, and warm pleasantries. While Anne shared more about HKTDC’s mission and strategic vision, I was happy to offer my thoughts, based on experience, on engaging relevant communities across the US. Unfortunately, courtesy meetings such as this one never provide the time to dig too deeply, but we ended our time together with an acknowledgment that there was much to be gained from continuing the conversation, either online or in person. Following the obligatory photo op, Anne kindly escorted me to the elevator, waiting until the doors closed before retreating back into the office, a practice, I’d come to learn, is common in Hong Kong.

 

Thursday, April 6

Getting to Know Hong Kong

With a break from scheduled meetings came an opportunity to see and learn more about Hong Kong, and there was no better tour guide than my friend Peter Ryan. Nearly three years into his job as Consul General of Ireland for Hong Kong, Peter, the first to serve in this important role, speaks of the city as though he’s been there for a lifetime. A short ferry trip across the harbor to Kowloon gave me a view of Hong Kong I hadn’t yet experienced, and my first indication of how expansive the city is. A short walk through Kowloon, took us past the stores of some of the world’s most expensive retailers, and then those clearly more focused on a local customer base.

Having Peter to share his knowledge of the history of, as well as his perspective on the current state of business and geopolitical affairs in, Hong Kong, while also seeing it firsthand, gave me a unique understanding of the dynamic intersection of Eastern and Western cultures there, and the important role that it will continue to play in a continually more complicated global arena.

Rounding out our tour with a stop for lunch at the historic Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Hong Kong was another special opportunity that would prove to make my time there even more unique, memorable and rewarding.

 

Thursday, April 6

Rugby Dinner

 

After a power nap to stave off the effects of jet lag, I headed towards the Hong Kong Football Club for the Irish Chamber of Commerce of Hong Kong’s annual Rugby Dinner. Occupying some of the most expensive real estate on the planet, the importance of the club as an indicator of social standing in the community, as well as a center of business networking, was apparent before we even got through the front door.

Typical of the sort of networking events I am used to back in the US, I was quickly enveloped into a crowd of individuals from many industries, all anxious to share information about their business acumen and swap contact details for future conversation. What set this event apart from others was the global perspective of many of the attendees, hailing from locations around the world, all in Hong Kong pursuing various opportunities.

Leading the event’s festivities were Rosa Chan, Chairwoman of the ICCHK, a Hong Kong born, Dublin raised, successful businesswoman known perhaps as much for her prowess as an investment banker as she is for she role in importing Tayto brand crisps (potato chips) to the market there. I was grateful for the prior introduction to Rosa through my friends at the Cork Chamber of Commerce, as well as her efforts, on her organization’s biggest night of the year, to make me feel especially welcome.

As is the hallmark of Irish events everywhere, this one took a more humorous turn courtesy of Philip Quinn who ably emceed the evening and “moderated” a discussion with former Irish Rugby greats Trevor Ringland and Gordon D’Arcy. Like all in attendance, Trevor and Gordon took the occasion of the Hong Kong Sevens as an opportunity to build their own networks and expand their business successes now that their playing days are behind them. Having been regaled with tales of their exploits on the pitch, I was glad to have the opportunity to chat with both, and to leave the event as the new owner of an IRFU jersey they both kindly signed.By any measure, not the least of of which was the raising of funds for the Pieta House and their upcoming Darkness Into Light walk, a global fundraising opportunity to bring attention to efforts toward suicide and self harm prevention, the event was a tremendous success.

 

Friday, April 8

More Networking

 

Despite the late hour of the previous night’s event,and the continued effects of jet lag, Friday morning brought more enthusiasm for the day, and opportunities ahead.

 

Starting at the Irish Consulate, I was glad to be a part of the continuing tradition of First Friday networking breakfasts that Peter Ryan started during his time in New York City. Like many I have attended in the US, this one featured a wide array of individuals, from a variety of backgrounds, all out to share their “Global Irish” stories and grow their personal networks. Also similar to the ones Peter hosted in New York, those in the room were as willing to offer contacts as they were to obtain useful intelligence to help them meet their objectives.

 

The crowd ran the gamut from business leaders to budding entrepreneurs, academics to students, all afforded the opportunity to speak before those assembled. Again, I was grateful for the chance to meet everyone in the room, and tell of my own connections to Ireland, continued efforts to help clients of Lenox Consulting to build networks, and the work and success of Irish Network USA to encourage “investment” in Ireland through business, culture, education and sports.

 

Next it was off to the office of Invest Hong Kong, the government agency charged with attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). I enjoyed learning more of their efforts to attract multinational corporations, as well as SMEs, to Hong Kong. Similar to what I hear so often here in the US, they have been asked to “do more with less”, yet, by clearly defining the benefits of locating in Hong Kong, and offering a variety of professional service support and incentives, have achieved great success. The wins they have achieved can undoubtedly be attributabed to team members like Charles Ng, Associate Director-General, and Simon Tsang, Head of Innovation and Technology, who spoke passionately of the value proposition of Hong Kong has to offer.

 

Before heading on to the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong’s office I had a chance for a quick break to enjoy some downtime in Chater Garden. While the park was currently doubling as the location of HK Sevens Central, the usual tranquility of the park, in the shadow of towering structures all around was apparent.

 

Rounding out the “official” part of my trip, was a much anticipated conversation with Tara Joseph. Just weeks into her role as President of AmCham Hong Kong, Tara has a long history as a reporter for Reuters in Asia, covering the most important economic and political stories there for the past 15 years. Similar to the work of my friend Mark Redmond, AmCham Ireland, whom kindly made this introduction, Tara is responsible for leading the organization’s strategy in Hong Kong, making sure the interests of American businesses there, and in Mainland China, are heard and met, and for driving opportunities for commerce for the US in this strategically and financially critical part of the globe. At a time when uncertainty around the tax and trade policies of a Trump White House abounds in Washington, and around the globe, and in the backdrop of the President Trump/President Xi Jinping summit, this was an especially opportune time for me to have this meeting, and one that will certainly yield additional discussion in the future.

 

Friday, April 8

Seeing the Beauty of Hong Kong

 

With the work week over, there would now be a chance to experience some of the natural beauty that exists once you get beyond the towering skyscrapers of Hong Kong’s business centers. Less than a 30 minute taxi ride brought me to the seaside of Repulse Bay. While the origins of the name are questionable, with some saying it was once a haven for pirates that were “repulsed” by the British Navy, there is no doubt why the area is well regarded, and a highly visited spot, for tourists and locals alike.

 

The views of the bay provided an interesting juxtaposition to the high rise residential buildings among the most expensive in Hong Kong, that line the surrounding cliffside. In these building’s shadows is a vibrant restaurant and nightlife corridor as well as the Kwun Yam Shrine, featuring an array of statues each offering their own importance in Taoist tradition. Having tossed my coin into the mouth of a towering statue that appeared to be a lion, I expect to soon be rewarded with the good luck that such a feat is supposed to bring!

 

Saturday and Sunday, April 9-10

Hong Kong Rugby 7s

 

After an early Saturday morning breakfast meeting with Charles Ng, following up on our discussion from the day before, it was time to head to Hong Kong Stadium for the well known Hong Kong Rugby Sevens. Thankfully I had been well prepared ahead of time for what I was to witness. As I made my way through the inner corridors of the stadium, I passed rugby fans, or perhaps party enthusiasts, in a variety of costumes, headed toward the infamous South Stand. While many of the costumes were in good enough taste, some would have made even Barney Stinson blush. I was amazed that despite signs announcing 4 hour waits for admittance, person after person gladly lined up for their turn to enter the area that can only be defined as a fraternity party on steroids.

 

With my pass calling out my “VIP” status proudly displayed around my neck I found my way to the Union Suite, home of the Hong Kong Rugby Union for the 3 day event. While the crowd gathered was no less enthusiastic, it was decidedly more subdued. Making my status as a novice to both the Hong Kong Sevens, and rugby in general, clear, I had no problem finding attendees more than willing to educate me on the nuances of the game, as well as to offer me insight into the network that existed within that community.

 

The format of the play makes the game quick, exciting, and easy to follow, even among those whose attention span is limited by the incessant need to check for the latest alert coming through on a never out of site mobile device. Being as close to the action as I was lucky to be, and surrounded by committed fans of the game, I was, over the course of the two days, able to pick up nuances in the style of the various teams, and quickly found myself shouting along as though I’d been there before. By the time Fiji took on South Africa in Sunday’s final match, I was a Rugby 7s convert!

 

In keeping with the business is pleasure theme of the trip, I was amazed by the level of networking going on in the box and the ability to connect with business leaders whose backgrounds spanned the globe, and ones I never would have met outside of this environment. Pieter Schats, a South African by birth who has called Hong Kong home since for thirty years, and made a name for himself as a standout player in Hong Kong, currently serves as Chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Union, and proved to be a most gracious host. Throughout the days I found no shortage of conversation with a variety of folks, from Australia, Ireland, Scotland, and more, all tied together by the sport. Invites to Singapore for the next stop on the Rugby 7s tour and assurances that this new network I was getting involved would continue to grow were very welcome, and helped round out what had proved to be a very successful trip.

 

Monday, April 10

Heading Home

 

With four full days over, it was time for a memorable, and hopefully repeated in the not too distant future, trip to come to a close. Once again showing that Hong Kong is a city on the move because it knows how to move people, travel from house to train station to airport was a breeze. Luggage is checked in at the train station making the less than 30 minute ride to the airport much more comfortable, and transit through the airport more convenient. Despite its size and passenger volume, passing through security was quick, and the only real lines were at McDonald’s!

As is always the case with effective networking, the success of this trip hinges not just on the time I spent in Hong Kong and the quality of meetings and events I attended, but also on the follow up work and time I will put in towards developing deeper relationships with those I was lucky enough to to come into contact with 8000 miles from my home base!

United Airlines provided the same top notch service I have become used to as frequent flyer with them, and a short 15 and a bit hours later I landed safely back at Newark Airport.

 

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Survey: The New Jersey and Ireland Connection

There are few certainties in life. Sure, we know “the house always wins,” the U.S. Postal service delivers despite rain, sleet, snow or hail, and that when snow is in the forecast, worried shoppers will run to the supermarket to buy bread and milk. Here in New Jersey, we can add one more certainty to that list: no matter what else is going on in the world around us, cities and towns across the state will “go green” and attract large crowds in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

With this in mind coupled with very specific Irish familial and business interests and an ongoing desire to use data as a means to inform our work, we set out to determine just how connected New Jersey is to Ireland, and how St. Patrick’s Day celebrations across our state inform and effect views of Ireland.  To that end, we conducted an online survey of 700 New Jersey adults.

According to Census data, an estimated 13% of all New Jerseyeans identify their ancestry as Irish.  In our survey, we found that just over 20% of respondents identified themselves as Irish-American (the proximity of St. Patrick’s Day and the way in which we asked the question likely explains the difference). This increased self-identification as Irish in the days leading up to St. Patrick’s Day also lends more credence to the belief that often times one’s connection to Ireland can be as much emotional as it is through actual ancestral and family ties.

Ireland also enjoys high popularity amongst New Jerseyans, with about three quarters (74%) of New Jersey adults reporting either a favorable or very favorable opinion of Ireland. St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in New Jersey similarly enjoy high marks, with roughly 70% saying that St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in their communities create either a positive or very positive impression of Ireland and Irish culture, showing that the holiday is an important platform for cultural and economic exchange and diplomacy.  This is crucially important to organizations, like Irish Network NJ, that strive to utilize connections to Ireland as a means to growing further economic and cultural links between the two nations.

While for many being “Irish” is about much more than just one day, or one month, out of the year, there is no doubt that whether it’s the travel industry, universities offering study abroad opportunities, or more general efforts to mobilize what has been termed the “Global Irish”, St. Patrick’s Day can and should be seen as an opportunity to increase outreach efforts.

While just about 38% of respondents reported awareness regarding efforts to engage Americans to invest in Ireland through business, educational opportunities or travel, nearly double the number were not. Given the aforementioned positive feeling towards Ireland, and an increased population that considers themselves Irish, if even only during this time of year, opportunities are plentiful to build on recent successes, which have seen record numbers of tourists visiting Ireland, and to entice more to choose Ireland for overseas studies.

Finally, over the years exceptionally strong bonds have been built between US and Irish business interests.  US companies seeking opportunities to expand globally have chosen overwhelmingly to grow through Ireland, creating approximately 150,000 jobs there.

Efforts by the Irish government to attract additional business investment are plentiful, and can, by any measure, be considered successful, but with 62% of respondents unaware of these efforts, strategies to dig deeper into the Irish American community would likely yield even more positive results.

Additionally, often lost in the discussion about overseas growth for US companies in Ireland, is the relative parity that exists between the jobs creation in Ireland, and that of Irish companies here in the US that currently employ 120,000 Americans in 2,600 locations spread out across all 50 states. This little known fact, when introduced through the survey, prompted 69% of respondents to report that they view Ireland even more favorably or much more favorably, and is an easy one to point to when speaking to policymakers or others with a more inwardly-focused approach to trade and business growth in the United States.

The bottom line is, as New Jersey and communities across the United States “go green” for St. Patrick’s Day, it is clear that Ireland and Irish Americans have an effective platform to inspire goodwill and further strengthen our trans-Atlantic partnership.

> For more details on the survey

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FMBA- Not Just Fighting Fires

statehouseVisiting the New Jersey Statehouse with the New Jersey State FMBA on consecutive session days again reminded me of the out-sized role the union is playing in the lives of their members, both statewide and at the local level. It fills me with pride to be part of such awesome efforts, and to work alongside men and women that risk their lives for others on a daily basis as part of their “real” jobs, while they also go to great lengths to bring about important change that elected officials and politicians have been unable or unwilling to effectuate alone.

 

Senate Bill 3040, sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, offers historic changes to the pension system that local firefighters and police officers throughout New Jersey contribute to throughout their careers, and rely on for their retirement security. While the near unanimous, bipartisan, passing of the bill by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, and then unanimous support by the full Senate, is what most intrigued the press, it is the manner in which this legislation came to fruition that really tells the story of what the NJ FMBA does for members, and our state, on a day in and day out basis.

 

For more than two years the NJ FMBA, led by Eddie Donnelly and Rich Mikutsky, have researched similar policies in other states, educated and involved their members about the benefits of this drastic change, and worked tirelessly to make it a bipartisan effort with buy in from all four unions whose members will go from relatively silent stakeholders in the current system to decision makers in the new one. While the legislative process can be a tricky one, the lack of reasonable opposition to the bill would indicate that it will ultimately land on the Governor’s desk for his signature. True, Governor Christie has been no friend to firefighters or police throughout his tenure, but this proposal, offering greater protections to taxpayers whose dollars help fund these pensions as the local level, and in line with one that a committee he appointed recommended, could well be one of the few positive legacies of his time in the Statehouse.

 

Through much of the time the NJ FMBA has been developing this plan, they have also played a key role in efforts led by Hamilton Locals 84 and 284 to bring much needed improvement to the way the fire service operates in one of New Jersey’s largest municipalities. Currently divided into nine separate fire districts, each operated under its own statutory authority, this antiquated system leads to disparity not just in taxpayer cost for this critical local service, but also in the ability for firefighters to respond to emergencies, as well as the training and pay they receive. Indeed, not the first time consolidation has been considered in Hamilton, this, with great credit to the Hamilton FMBA, is the first time firefighters, department administration, local and state government, and most importantly, residents, have been at the table together.

 

Over the course of about 18 months professional firefighters in Hamilton took their campaign block by block and door to door and voluntarily gathered more than 5,000 signatures from residents. Throughout this process, the only request the firefighters have made is that the decision makers that have the ultimate say in what a reconfigured fire department looks like put politics aside and make decisions based on what will make Hamilton residents, as well as these brave first responders, safer.

 

Both of these instances show where the inaction of government over the course many years has caused what some derisively term an “interest group” to not simply demand action, but rather to make it happen. As S-3040 makes its way through the Statehouse, and Hamilton Township inches closer to consolidation of their fire districts, both will also show that government works best when it allows those most effected by its actions to come in and be a part of making our state and communities better.

 

Lenox Consulting is proud work with the New Jersey FMBA, as well with Locals across the state, including in Hamilton, helping them strategically deliver key messages to residents, lawmakers and the media in the communities they serve.

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Irish America on Capitol Hill

Steve Lenox, President, Lenox Consulting, was proud to speak at a Congressional briefing on Irish America – following is a review he prepared on the event:

 

imageJust hours before President Trump delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress, efforts were underway on Capitol Hill to raise awareness of issues important to the Global Irish community across the US. Billed as a Congressional briefing, the event, was hosted by the Council for American Ireland Relations (CAIR), a non-profit, non-partisan organization, launched to educate US lawmakers, and insure that the voice of Irish America is not lost in the legislative and policymaking process.

Following a warm Irish welcome by Congressman Brendan Boyle, Michael Carroll, Chairman, thanked the nearly twenty legisaltive staff and other guests for attending, reminding them that the mission of CAIR is to “be a resource to your office, not just in the days leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, but throughout the year.”

While panelists Denis Staunton, London Editor, The Irish Times; Brian O’Dwyer, Chairman, Emerald Isle Immigration Center; and Steve Lenox, President, Irish Network USA offered their insights on issues such as the potential political and economic impact of Brexit, immigration reform, and the continuing growth of business links between the US and Ireland, the attendance of other notable leaders such as Stella O’Leary, President, Irish American Democrats; Claire Rumpsa, Director of Leadership Programs, Washington Ireland Program; and Terry Riley, President, AOH Herbert-Cady Division, was a strong reminder of the depth of leadership that currently exists within the Irish American community.

Acknowledging the attendance of Representative Joe Crowley, Chairman, House Democratic Caucus, and Representative Kathleen Rice, and thanking them for their leadership, O’Dwyer stated that “the Irish have always held a special place on Capitol Hill, and at all levels of government throughout our nation’s history.” Sharing his extensive knowledge on efforts towards immigration reform, including in his role as Founder of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, O’Dwyer continued “the unpredictability of the Trump Adminstration makes it more critical than ever that we look out for the rights of the Irish that have made their homes in communities across the nation.” O’Dwyer estimated that the number of undocumented Irish living in the US to be close to 100,000.

Steve Lenox, President, Irish Network USA, reminded those in attendance that “with nearly 40 million people in the US claiming Irish heritage, the reality is that every member of Congress has at least a piece of this key demographic in their district.” As a dual citizen , and dual resident of the US and Ireland, Lenox shared his unique experiences raising his children between the two countries, as well as traveling throughout the US speaking to Irish communities and concluded that “for many St. Patrick’s Day is about much more than soda bread and green beer, and through CAIR we want to make sure your Members are prepared to answer the questions that are truly indicative of the unique relationship between Ireland and the United States.”

“This was an important, timely briefing as Congress debates immigration and many other issues of concern for Irish Americans,” stated Michael Maitland, Chief of Staff, Office of Representative Donald Norcross. “Especially now, the United States can only benefit from embracing our Irish American neighbors and strengthening ties with our Irish cousins.”

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Lessons from a Jersey Diner

DinerAnyone who has turned to the writings of leaders they admire, seeking to replicate their success, has surely come across advice to get a jump start on the work week. While I have also sought such pearls of wisdom, and started countless weeks by sitting down on a Sunday evening putting my goals and objectives for the coming days on paper, I must say that spending time at a Jersey City diner, at an hour when sleep should be foremost on my mind, preparing to help bring attention to a client event that begins at 11:00 p.m., is a new one for me!

It’s also a reminder of the commitment and dedication of the law enforcement community, and the incredible role JCPDthey play in keeping us all safe. While most of us are tucked away safely in our beds, the men and women I will be visiting tonight spend their overnights patrolling the neighborhoods they protect, putting themselves in harm’s way, abiding by an oath they took to protect and serve countless citizens who too often have little appreciation for their efforts. These under appreciated efforts are replicated by their counterparts in law enforcement across the country, as well as other community heroes staffing firehouses, and keeping emergency rooms at the ready, prepared to respond to the direst of incidents. It is indeed an honor and a privilege to count so many of these men and women as friends and clients.

Sitting here at this hour, I marvel at the multi-cultural array of the individuals taking up the booths around me. I see a richness of diversity on the faces of my fellow diners, and overhear various conversations with a wonderful variety of accents. As many of us continue to be disturbed by efforts coming from the White House to make criminals of those who have come here to build better lives, and have, at the same time made our communities stronger, tonight’s experience is a glimpse into the reality that immigration has always been a cornerstone of the United States, and our willingness to welcome others from far away lands, offering them the opportunity to make their dreams a reality, is what has made America great.

BookerFinally, as I see the waitstaff switch over from one shift to the next, I think about the chapter I read earlier today in Senator Cory Booker’s “United” in which he shared the story of Natasha, a young waitress, and her story of struggle to provide for her family within the confines of a low-wage job. Despite the challenges she faced, her fierce determination to support her children, while at the same time showing a tremendous understanding of the role she played as a counselor to those she brought heaping plates of food to, has further inspired Senator Booker’s already impressive commitment to public service. “The High Cost of Cheap Labor” as he skillfully articulated in the aptly titled chapter, is not only an issue that he has taken on in Washington, but one we can all work to improve by heeding his urging for us all to love more, to recognize that we rise and fall together, and to understand that our successes as a nation, and our successes as individuals, are inextricably linked.

Tonight’s time at the VIP Diner has certainly prepared me for the new week.

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