By Sabina Mollot
What began with an annual get together by a group of media professionals with the last name Kelly has morphed over a period of 18 years into a charity that this week will have raised over $1 million for various notable causes.
Stuyvesant Town resident and New York Post columnist Keith Kelly, who’s one of the founding members of this group, spoke with Town & Village this week about The Kelly Gang and how its supporters have included former top cop Ray Kelly and even Donald Trump.
Ahead of its annual corned beef and cabbage dinner, which was held on Tuesday night at midtown restaurant Michael’s, Keith Kelly said the gang began with an informal Christmas meal in 2000. At first it was Keith, Ed Kelly, who was then CEO of American Express Publishing, Mike Kelly, then the publisher of Entertainment Weekly, Jim Kelly, editor in chief of Time magazine, and author Tom Kelly. At the time, it was for a news story on various media Kellys who’d gotten promotions and they met up at The Four Seasons.
“Ed Koch saw us and sent over a round of drinks,” Keith recalled. One day, when spotting the group at the pub Langan’s, Post columnist Steve Dunleavy dubbed them The Kelly Gang.
Early on, the Kellys were joined in their gatherings by Michael Kelly from Atlantic Monthly. But in 2003, tragedy struck. Michael Kelly was sent to Iraq, where he was killed while covering the invasion.
“After that we couldn’t get together for laughs and fun when we’d lost one of our guys,” said Keith. So instead, the group opted to raise funds for Michael’s two sons, Tom and Jack. They were shocked when the event, which took place at Michael’s, got a huge outpouring of support, especially from the news industry.
After that, the Kellys decided to get more organized and pick a different cause each year to support, preferably one to support a local institution, and they formed a charity in 2004. They also lost the rule about having to be named Kelly to participate.
“Now that the Kellys run fundraisers, we joke that as long as your check is good, you’re a Kelly for the day,” quipped Keith.
Then NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly soon became a regular, which may have boosted the event’s profile. According to Keith, some people have shown up just to see him. Trump, who attended the event after Michael Kelly’s death, also offered support by flying in Michael’s sons from Boston. Another year, then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg showed up. Megyn Kelly has also attended events, though never when now-President Trump was there.
Keith described the dinners as low-key, held buffet style, always around St. Patrick’s Day with traditional holiday fare. The timing of the event isn’t a coincidence. Along with its charitable endeavors, another mission of The Kelly Gang is to end stereotypes about the Irish indulging in drunk and rowdy behavior on St. Patrick’s.
There’s also usually live Irish music, and always bagpipers. The pipers used to be from the NYPD’s Emerald Society, but they stopped playing there after an unflattering Post story ran.
Asked if there was ever any awkwardness, considering that many of the media professionals attending the events have been written about in Keith’s Media ink column, Keith said there really hasn’t been.
“They don’t forget the tough stories, but they overlook it for the night,” he said. “It’s the one day of the year where I’m considered a nice guy.”
Keith, like the other gang members, is a volunteer for the organization, which this year raised about $100,000 for Christo Rey New York High School. Christo Rey is a Catholic college prep program that provides affordable educations and real work experience to students from low-income families.
“For most of them, they’re the first kids in their family to go to college,” said Keith of the program.
Previous beneficiaries of money raised by the gang include Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Bowery Mission and Wounded Warrior Project.
On the success The Kelly Gang has enjoyed so far, Keith said, “We’re pretty amazed. We never envisioned that at the start.”