Congratulations to Claire D. Cronin, officially approved on December 18 to become our next U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.
The 61-year-old Massachusetts state legislator, with family roots in Donegal, was first nominated by the White House on June 23 to be U.S. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Ireland. She appeared before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 29 and was approved by the committee on October 19.
But her nomination, along with dozens of others, was held up for nearly two months by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). Finally, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) broke the logjam in December, and Cronin and the others were approved by a voice vote.
Cronin beat out several high profile Irish-Americans vying for the coveted Dublin position. Her advantage turned out to be President Joe Biden himself, who in the past few years has come to appreciate her considerable political savvy, legal expertise, legislative accomplishments and mediating skills. She served on the Biden campaign’s National Finance Committee and became a top surrogate in the campaign. In March 2020 she helped Biden stage a Super Tuesday upset in Massachusetts, winning 30% of the vote while besting hometown favorite Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders. At the Democratic National Convention in summer 2020, Cronin was chosen to officially announce her state’s eleven electoral votes for Biden.
Cronin, whose maiden name is McLaughlin, comes from a proud Irish-American family of lawyers, teachers and elected officials. Her dad James was an attorney and veteran who served in the South Pacific during WWII and was a Pearl Harbor survivor who later attended law school with the help of the GI Bill. Her mother Phyllis (Lucey) was a beloved elementary school teacher who won Teacher of the Year awards in Norfolk County. Phyllis’ uncle was a state representative, and so was her brother, C. Gerald Lucey, who also served two terms as mayor of Brockton.
Just as Joe Biden was profoundly shaped by hard-scrabble Scranton, a mining town of backbreaking labor and immigrant dreams, Cronin’s life has similarly been shaped by Brockton, a blue-collar city southwest of Boston, once known as the Shoe Capital of America when it boasted 39 shoe factories in the early 20th century. Her Irish immigrant grandfather worked in one of those shoe factories, and her family’s purposeful ascension to public service, law and education gives Cronin a distinct sense of place and an appreciation of her family’s American journey.
“I grew up in Brockton, which I always believed really shaped who I am as a person,” she says in an interview with Commonwealth Magazine. “I grew up in a family where …work in government was a way to give back to your community and something that I always valued.”
A political science major at Stonehill College in Easton, run by the Congregation of Holy Cross, Cronin got her law degree from Suffolk University Law School in Boston. She and her husband Ray Cronin have two children, Kara and Kerry.
As an attorney, Cronin has handled numerous civil cases, from personal injury suits to criminal cases while also becoming a skilled negotiator and arbitrator. Most notably, she arbitrated the $85 million landmark settlement of the Massachusetts clergy sexual abuse cases in 2003, according to her office.
Cronin didn’t run for public office until 2012, winning an open seat as state representative in the 11th Plymouth District, which includes Brockton and Easton. Then she rose steadily through the ranks at the rough-and-tumble Massachusetts State House, distinguishing herself as a skilled legislator and committee leader, while breaking glass ceilings along the way.
As the first woman to chair the state’s joint Judiciary Committee in the House, she was the architect of a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill, cited as the most extensive reform of the state’s criminal justice system in decades. She has advocated for increased educational funding, better access to mental health and substance abuse services, civil rights issues and veterans’ benefits.
In February 2021, Cronin became the first woman appointed as the Massachusetts House Majority Leader, the second highest house leadership position. House Speaker Ronald Mariano, called her “one of the most thoughtful and trustworthy elected officials I have ever had the privilege of working with. Time and time again, she has demonstrated her ability to unite people and forge meaningful solutions to politically-complex issues.”
In fact, her leadership style mirrors that of President Biden. “I always try to get to yes if we can get to yes, and I’ve always had a very open-door policy,” Cronin told Commonwealth Magazine. “My background is as a mediator, so that shaped the way I work to build consensus when working on legislation.”
At her September 29 hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Cronin promised to “work with Ireland to ensure that addressing global challenges and partnering in global security continue to be strong elements of our bilateral relationship.”
She also noted the strong economic ties between the two countries, stating, “The United States is Ireland’s strongest and largest trade and investment partner. More than 900 U.S. firms operate in Ireland and, Ireland is currently the ninth largest investor in the United States. I will promote the United States as an investment and exchange destination for Irish companies, and advocate for increased two-way trade and investment to create jobs in the United States and Ireland.”
The response from Irish-American leaders to Cronin’s nomination has been enthusiastic.
Massachusetts Congressman Richard E. Neal predicts Cronin “will play a significant role in helping to strengthen the bonds between the United States and Ireland. This is an important posting and that is why I look forward to working closely with the Ambassador on a range of issues to reinforce and expand our unique transatlantic partnership.”
Bruce A. Morrison, former Connecticut congressman, immigration reform leader and founder of the Morrison Public Affairs Group in Bethesda, MD, praised Cronin’s “sterling reputation as a legislator and proven leader in the Massachusetts State House.
“She has a steadfast relationship with President Joe Biden, who trusts her political skills and judgement,” Morrison says. “That combination makes her an excellent choice to be our next U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. She will have the President’s ear and they will be a great team for maintaining the strong Irish-U.S. relationship.”
The Boston-based Irish American Partnership also sent congratulations, writing, “As the first woman to serve as Majority Leader in the Massachusetts Legislature, she will be the third woman to serve at this posting in Dublin, and we look forward to working together to strengthen the longstanding relationship that bonds the United States and Ireland.”
Cronin will join only two other women who have held the Ambassador to Ireland position: Margaret M. O’Shaughnessy Heckler (1986-89) and Jean Kennedy Smith (1993-98). Like Cronin, both of them are from Massachusetts.
Caroline Kennedy For Australia?
President Biden nominated Caroline Kennedy as his ambassador to Australia on Wednesday, December 15th. The daughter of President John F. Kennedy, Kennedy served as U.S. Ambassador to Japan from 2013-2017.
In a statement announcing the nomination, The White House noted the role that Kennedy played in the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, which culminated in the historic visits of President Obama to Hiroshima and Prime Minister Abe to Pearl Harbor, saying “[Kennedy] advanced the realignment of U.S. Forces in Okinawa, promoted women’s empowerment in Japan, and increased student exchange between the U.S and Japan. In 2017, she founded the International Poetry Exchange Project to virtually connect students in Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and the Bronx through the power of the spoken word. In November 2021, she was awarded the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun, the highest honor for which foreigners are eligible, for her efforts to strengthen the US-Japan alliance.”
Prior to her time in Japan, Kennedy was at the forefront of education reform efforts in New York City, creating public private partnerships to promote arts education, school libraries, and performing arts spaces. She served as the CEO of the Office of Strategic Partnerships at the NYC Department of Education from 2002-2004, Vice Chair of the Fund for Public Schools from 2002-2010, and served on the Board of New Visions for Public Schools.
An attorney and author, Kennedy has published 11 New York Times best-selling books on law, civics, and poetry and serves as the Honorary President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. She is a Director of the Carnegie Corporation and a member of the Board of Advisors of the International Rescue Committee.
In a statement, Kennedy mentioned that her father was rescued off the coast of the Solomon Islands and Australia during World War II. ♦
Michael Quinlin is author of Irish Boston (Globe Pequot Press: 2013) and editor of Tales from the Emerald Isle and Other Green Shores (Lyons Press: 2014). He co-founded the Boston Irish Tourism Association in 2000 and created Boston’s Irish Heritage Trail. Mike lives in Milton, Massachusetts with his wife Colette and son Devin.