Tony Soprano might run a tight ship, but he ain't got nothing on New York's top boss.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is refusing to back down from stinging criticism leveled by organizers of the city's annual Columbus Day Parade, who are demanding hizzoner whack two stars of HBO's The Sopranos from the lineup.
Bloomberg invited Dominic Chianese (Tony's Uncle Junior) and Lorraine Bracco (Tony's shrink, Dr. Jennifer Melfi) to march along with such other Italian-rooted New York notables--like Yankee manager Joe Torre and city Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta--in this year's affair, taking place Monday. Turns out, though, the mayor never told the parade planners about his guests.
And bada-bing, bada-boom, a full blown controversy has erupted.
Seems the parade folks aren't too keen on The Sopranos. Like several Italian-American groups, they think the HBO hit is demeaning to their ancestry.
"There is simply no place in a celebration of ethnic pride and heritage for the public display and promotion of a program that glorifies violence, debases women, and portrays Italian-Americans in the worst possible light," Lawrence Auriana, president of the Columbus Citizens Foundation (the group that's run the parade for the past 58 years), said in press release titled "Sopranos Uninvited and Unwelcome in Columbus Day Parade." The group has previously turned down previous requests to have Sopranos stars walk in the parade.
"This," Auriana added, "is not the mayor's parade." Auriana says the group might even go to court to keep the actors away.
In a press conference Wednesday, Bloomberg defended his decision, explaining he invited Chianese and Bracco because they were good Gothamites and rock-solid role models, at least off screen.
"Lorraine Bracco has been very active in some environmentalist things, and Uncle Junior did some PSA's for the city," the mayor explained. "Both of them are very proud of their Italian heritage.
"I didn't invite them as members of The Sopranos. These are two nice people who have gone out of their way to help the city."
As a matter of fact, Bloomberg added (remember he is a politician), he doesn't even watch the show.
Both actors are planning to put on their marching shoes and join the festivities. "As a citizen of New York, I am proud to march with Mayor Bloomberg in the Columbus Day parade," Chianese said via a press release. "I am glad the mayor has acknowledged me as a successful Italian-American actress. As a native New Yorker and activist, it is a privilege to march next to the mayor," Bracco said through an HBO-issued statement.
For the millions of Sopranos fans out there, this Columbus Day imbroglio is, in the words of another New York Italian-American icon Yogi Berra, déjà-vu, all over again.
The September 29 episode had Tony consigliere Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) fuming over a bunch of Native American protesters dissing Columbus at a North Jersey Columbus Day Parade.
"Ultimately, it's anti-Italian discrimination," says Silvio. "Columbus Day is a day of Italian pride, it's our holiday, and they want to take it away. We have to protect our honor." The episode ends with Silvio's crew banging some heads and winding up in the can.
Ironically, those are practically the same sentiments expressed by William Fugazy, president of the Coalition of Italo-American Associations.
"It's a sort of sacred day for Italo-Americans. Our parade is about heritage and pride. Certainly, the Sopranos haven't done much for heritage and pride in our community."
But Bloomberg isn't budging.
"I'm not here to win an ideological competition," he said. "We're here to celebrate. This is New York. You can't do anything without people being upset. I apologize if anyone's offended, but, you know, if you're offended, don't wave back when they wave at you. It's very simple, you don't like The Sopranos, don't turn it on. Nobody's forcing you to do either."
Or, translated to Tony-speak, "Whaddya gonna do?"