It was the socio-political equivalent of a late-summer thunderstorm: low-levels of thunder and lightning followed within hours by a fast-clearing sky.
The clouds began gathering on the edge of the horizon back in late May after state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, a Haitian American from Dorchester, defeated state rep. Nick Collins of South Boston in a special election held to fill a state Senate district seat that had been held by white, Irish-American male residents of South Boston going back generations. Each of them in succession had assumed as part of the job responsibility for organizing and presenting a breakfast in Southie every March as an adjunct to the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
For a while, and just for some, the election left open to question the matter of who would be the organizer and emcee of the breakfast in March 2014. Would it be Boston City Councillor Bill Linehan, who had run the show this past March after state Sen. Jack Hart resigned his seat to join the private sector? Or would it be Sen. Dorcena Forry, for many the presumptive host, given the election results?
Linehan, speaking to a Boston Globe reporter in early September, sought to answer the question firmly in saying that he planned to continue in the role of host: “It’s never been stated anywhere that it has to be the state senator,” he said. “It’s a cultural thing. There has never been anyone who hosted it who does not live in South Boston, but there have been people who have hosted it who were not the state senator.” Nick Collins, Dorcena Forry’s vanquished foe, backed Linehan’s position.
But in talking to the Globe reporter, the senator gave no ground: “The sitting senator has always hosted, and you don’t have to be Irish to do it. I believe that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Everyone’s celebrating Irish culture. You don’t have to be 100 percent Irish.”
The senator’s household is illustrative: She and her husband, Bill Forry, an Irish American who is the editor and publisher of the Dorchester Reporter and a contributing editor with the Boston Irish Reporter, have four children who “celebrate” their parents’ cultures inside their home, she told the Globe reporter, adding “I’m not just a random black woman who has this seat.”
The storm was now directly overhead, and it gave voice to those in South Boston, like Linehan and Collins and 72-year-old Helen Butler, a lifelong resident, who viewed the breakfast as a virtual birthright. Said Butler to the Globe: “There’s something to be said for holding onto tradition. That breakfast is a South Boston tradition. Would it be Castle Island if you picked it up and moved it someplace else?”
And there were those, like Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and former state Senate President William Bulger, the legendary emcee who presided over numerous breakfasts during his long tenure in office, who saw the issue Dorcena Forry’s way.
In a matter of hours, the clouds gave way to a bright sky of clarity, with Linehan crying “uncle” in agreeing to cede the emcee’s post to the senator from Dorchester. The two of them issued a statement saying that they had agreed that Dorcena Forry would preside at the breakfast next March.
“It is evident there has been miscommunication surrounding this event,” Dorcena Forry said. “I look forward to the South Boston delegation playing a major role in the event as they have done in the past.” Said Linehan, “I look forward to working with Senator Forry on presenting the St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast next year. . . . I am confident that we can present a quality event that makes us all proud.”
– TOM MULVOY