Schumer accused of giving Long Island the bird

There are some who call it a betrayal most fowl. However you bill it, this is a quacking good controversy.

Our tale begins at Monday’s inauguration lunch in Statuary Hall in the Capitol. The session was arranged by Sen. Chuck Schumer, the voluble, publicity-loving Democrat from New York and aspiring majority leader who, by virtue of his status as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, is the informal mayor of Capitol Hill.

It was Schumer’s job to arrange the inaugural festivities, and he did so with a profound display of parochialism: Although President Obama is from Hawaii by way of Illinois, and Vice President Biden is from Delaware, Schumer treated them to a performance by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and to a feast of 23 New York ingredients, including wine, water, cheese, apples, honey, yogurt and syrup. It was the most audacious export of New York products since Gov. Eliot Spitzer arranged for a New York prostitute to meet him at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel.

But then came this unfortunate quote from Schumer, “We were going to have Long Island duck. The duck was very good, but the preparation wasn’t great. We settled on South Dakota bison.”

South Dakota bison? At the very least he could have gone with Buffalo wings.

The switch made Butch Yamali honking mad. The Long Island caterer called a news conference on Tuesday to denounce Schumer for “giving Long Island the bird” while the whole world was watching.

“Like the eagle is the symbol of America, the duck is the symbol of Long Island,” Yamali told me. “When you attack the duck, you’re attacking Long Island. You’re attacking almost 3 million people by taking the duck off the menu.”

Yamali, a Republican who gives money to both parties and says he voted for Schumer last time around, asserts that “duck is a nonpolitical issue.” The offense was not the failure to serve the bird but that it was set to be served and then removed, as if it were tainted. “The word ‘duck’ is a badge of honor to Long Islanders, and it’s offensive to take the duck off the menu,” he charged.

And that business about the “presentation” being weak? Long Island duck farmer Doug Corwin calls that a canard. “Pan sauteing a duck breast is one of the easiest things in the world and tastes better than filet mignon,” said Corwin, whose Crescent Duck farm raises a million birds a year. “Evidently they didn’t hire a caterer with enough culinary skills.”

If there is a moral of this story (and there must be if it is to be published on the oped page of a Serious Newspaper), it is a reminder that, even in an age of “fiscal cliffs” and debt ceilings, all politics remain local — whether it’s the Republican congressman reflexively opposing Obama because he fears a tea party primary challenge, or Schumer larding the inauguration with New York products. Schumer won his seat by defeating Senator Pothole himself, Al D’Amato, and he has stuck with his predecessor’s example. But he who lives by constituent politics can also die by constituent politics — or at least be tarred and feathered by them.

Schumer is rarely one to duck the press, but aides failed to produce him on Tuesday despite many requests. “Anyone who thinks there wasn’t enough New York emphasis at the inauguration must be some sort of quack,” a spokesman, Matt House, offered gamely.

As a native of Yamali’s home town of Merrick, Long Island, I can attest that duck is revered by the locals, although you would not want to eat the ones I used to feed in the pond on Merrick Road. The Long Island duck “has more notoriety than the Maine lobster,” Yamali asserted. “At the gateway to the Hamptons is a giant duck. Our baseball team is called the Long Island Ducks.” (Actually, my baseball team was the Mets, and I think of the Ducks as a hockey team from Anaheim — but I’ve been off the Island for many years.)

So it’s a serious flap, to be sure. But I hope Schumer survives it. He’s one of the more colorful characters in Washington. Waddle we do without him?

© 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald



    U.S. has a history of encouraging free expression

    If it comes from the United States it must be bad. That is the conclusion some critics of ZunZuneo, the U.S.-sponsored Twitter-like platform that the Obama administration promoted in Cuba to disseminate information and encourage personal communications on the island.

The ring of Bishop Agustín Román.


    The bishop’s ring

    One evening two years ago, Bishop Agustín Román limited his supper to a handful of grapes. Urged by Father Fabio Arango to eat a healthy diet he answered that he felt no appetite. As was his custom, he helped his fellow priest wash and dry the dishes at the rectory. Then it was time for him to teach the evening catechism classes at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, a routine that he had carried out with apostolic zeal since 1968.


    Solutions must go deep

    For the past 23 years, I have worked in Florida’s child-protection system as a front-line case manager, investigator, supervisor, manager, policy director, deputy and district administrator.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category