St. Patrick’s Day 2014

I’m not quite sure I understand the whole controversy about openly gay persons marching in a St. Patrick’s Day parade.  The parade is just a celebration of heritage and the Irish are just as diverse as any other group.  Boston’s old Mayor, Tom Menino, simply didn’t march in the South Boston parade because of the restriction, upheld by a Supreme Court decision, that the parade organizers could choose who they wanted to march.  But new Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is, along with U. S. Representative Stephen Lynch, doing his best to broker a compromise that would allow Mass Equality to march with a banner.  I think the parade organizers that include a fellow called Wacko Hurley fear that their parade would turn into another gay pride march if they let any LGBT groups march.  Presumably, the LGBT community knows the difference: March is not June.  Plus, there is a picture from the 1992 parade, pre-Supreme Court decision,  that shows there is nothing to fear.

The parade is only a couple of days away, and Mayor Walsh is making one last try.  Most Boston and Massachusetts state-wide elected officials have already announced they are not going to march.  I think the only exception is Nick Collins, the State Representative from South Boston.

The 1992 South Boston parade after a court order.

The 1992 South Boston parade after a court order.

Kevin Cullen has a wonderful column in today’s Boston Globe about the Boston and New York City parades.

So Marty Walsh, God love ’im, is going to make one last-ditch effort to hammer out a compromise so gay people can march openly in Sunday’s parade in Southie.

As they say in the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht, from where Marty’s parents are from, “Beir bua agus beannacht.” Look it up.

Down here in New York, where its St. Patrick’s Day parade is older than the Declaration of Independence and lasts anywhere from six to seven hours, there’s the same standoff, with organizers refusing to let gay people march with banners that identify themselves as gay.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, as the Irish say, couldn’t be arsed when it comes to forging compromise. He boycotted the parade when he was the city’s public advocate. He’s not going to start marching now.

De Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, of the Medford [MA] Bloombergs, marched in the parade but de Blasio is about as different from Bloomberg as the Irish are from Irish-Americans.

De Blasio, who grew up in Cambridge, is married to a black woman and has biracial kids, so he’s not really into exclusion. But neither is he into cozying up to the New York Irish, who were in the corner of de Blasio’s primary opponent, Christine Quinn, who was the city council president.

The irony in this — and it wouldn’t be Irish if there weren’t irony — is that Quinn is openly gay. Which means, even when she led the city council delegation in the parade she wasn’t allowed to identify herself as being gay.

So the New York Irish wanted to elect an openly gay mayor but wouldn’t let her march in the parade as openly gay.

And people in New York think we’re nuts?

Mayor Walsh, on the other hand, had support from both the gay community and South Boston so he’s kinda caught in the middle.  But he has said that if he can’t work a compromise, he won’t march.

Linda Dorcena Forry

Linda Dorcena Forry

Boston also has this breakfast before the parade.  Politicians come and roast each other and try to sing Irish songs.  Last May I wrote about South Boston and the election of Linda Dorcena Forry.  I predicted that she would bring some life back to the St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast.  Dorcena Forry is Hatian American married to an Irish man.  The City Councilor from South Boston tried to wrest control, but tradition prevailed:  The State Senator who represents Southie hosts the breakfast.  So Bill Linehan is taking his ball and going to Ireland for the day.  I hope he realizes that this will make him the butt of a lot of jokes.  Whatever.Linda is doing her best to live up to my prediction.  First she announced that the Dropkick Murphy’s, Boston’s very popular Irish punk group, would perform.  Then the Boston Globe had news today of  her most recent announcement about the breakfast.

State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry’s groundbreaking debut as the first woman, first Haitian-American, and first Dorchester resident to host the storied St. Patrick’s Day breakfast on Sunday is apparently drawing some international attention.

Dorcena Forry announced Thursday that Enda Kenny — Ireland’s prime minister, or taoiseach — has agreed to attend the ribald political roast in South Boston.

The visit by a sitting head of state is a coup for Dorcena Forry, who promised to raise the profile of a breakfast that in recent years seemed to have lost some of its star power.

“I am honored that Taoiseach Kenny will join us for this year’s breakfast,” Dorcena Forry said. “I have had the pleasure of meeting the taoiseach during his previous visits to Boston. His attendance at the breakfast is a wonderful affirmation of the deep bonds of friendship between Boston and Ireland.”

No word on whether President Obama will be appearing either on tape or by live feed, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  The Prime Minister is not marching in the parade.

The times are rapidly changing.  Boston Beer Company (think Sam Adams) just announced they have pulled their parade sponsorship.  Wacko and his veterans group are doing a great job of killing the parade.  Meanwhile, the breakfast thrives.  Is there a lesson here?

Photograph of GLIB marching:  Marilyn Humphries

More politics, race and South Boston

Earlier this year I wrote about Linda Dorcena Forry, the Haitian American who won the special state Senate election to represent South Boston and parts of Dorchester.  I know Linda and I assumed that she would do a great job and win over any reluctant Southie constituents by sheer force of her personality if not her voting record.  Someone, I think it was Jim Braude on Boston Public Radio, said that she lights up a room when she walks into it.  So Dorcena Forry gets elected and you would think that would be it.  You would be wrong.  There is the small matter of St. Patrick’s Day.

For many decades there have been two events marking the holiday in Boston.  First, there is a breakfast at which Boston and Massachusetts political figures tell bad jokes and try to sing.  It was once just a small event, but now it gets TV coverage.  I think it has gone downhill the last few years, maybe since the William Bulger/Stephen Lynch hosting days ended.  Second, there is a parade.  This is a huge event, also televised.  It is notable for the drinking that takes place among those watching and for the fact that few politicians march.  They don’t march because the breakfast tuckers them out, but because the organizers do not allow LGBT groups to participate.  (I should note here that both events are organized by private non-profits and that my husband has marched in the parade as a 000000000paying gig.)  These events are an opportunity for South Boston to shine and celebrate.  Everyone is Irish at these events.  Or so we all thought.

Yesterday we woke up to this front page news. 

Southie St. Patrick’s Day breakfast slugfest begins early

Emcee struggle raises questions of tradition

What was this about?   Last year’s temporary host, William Linehan, the city councilor from South Boston, was making noises that he was not going to give up his hosting.  Linda Dorcena Forry who by longstanding tradition should be the next host was, ahem, not Irish you see.  The Boston Globe explains

The battle is over who has the rightful claim to host the event. Call it the Southie version of Game of Thrones.

For generations, the breakfast — which is essentially a political roast — has been hosted by the sitting senator in the First Suffolk Senate district. And since the 1940s, that office has been held by an Irish-American man from South Boston — from John Powers to Joe Moakley to Billy Bulger to Stephen Lynch to Jack Hart.

The neighborhood’s stranglehold on the office was so pronounced that it was referred to as the “Southie seat,” even though it also includes much of Dorchester, Mattapan, and a piece of Hyde Park.

But in May, Linda Dorcena-Forry, a Haitian-American woman from Dorchester, won that Senate seat after narrowly defeating Nick Collins, a young state representative from South Boston, in the Democratic primary.

Everyone had something to say.

William M. Bulger, the former senator who transformed the event into the made-for-television spectacle that it is today, took over hosting duties from then-senator Joe Moakley while Bulger was still a state representative. But in a phone interview this week, Bulger said “that’s mostly because I was such a ham, and Moakley finally said, ‘You want to take this thing over?’ ”

But Bulger went on to support Dorcena-Forry’s thinking, saying that “it has always been the understanding that it was the state senator that was the host.”

US Representative Stephen Lynch, who succeeded Bulger as state senator and breakfast host in 1997, also supported the idea that Dorcena-Forry should host.

“I believe the sitting state Senator has always served as host,” Lynch said in a statement. “As our new Senator, Linda should be the host, and I am happy to lend her my expertise and any assistance I can provide.”

Linehan and his supporters also weighed in.

“It’s never been stated anywhere that it has to be the state senator,” Linehan 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.”

and the last host who was a state senator?

But Jack Hart, the last of the sitting senators to host the event, took a different approach. He said the election of Dorcena-Forry ushered in an “unprecedented time,” and he said he hoped that Linehan and Dorcena-Forry could sit down and work out a compromise. “There are no rules. There’s no rule book to go by regarding who hosts the thing.”

He said he did not hand over the duties to Linehan; he simply left politics, and later got a call from Linehan saying that as the ranking South Boston elected official, he wanted to host, and asked for Hart’s advice on how to do it.

Representative Nick Collins who lost to Dorcena Forry agreed with Linehan leading some to accuse them of trying to revive the racial divisions of the past.

For her part, Dorcena Forry believed she should be host and pointed out

“The sitting senator has always hosted, and you don’t have to be Irish to do it,” Forry said in a phone interview. “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.”

Dorcena-Forry argues that she is no stranger to the Irish-American community. She is married to Bill Forry, an Irish-American who is editor of the Dorchester Reporter.

“I have four bi-racial children — Irish-American and black. I’ve been to Ireland four times. We celebrate the culture in my house. My two oldest sons were baptized in St. Augustine’s chapel in South Boston. I’m not just a random black woman who has this seat.”

Linda Dorcena Forry

Linda Dorcena Forry

I think that everyone realized that they were in tricky political waters which could rapidly become dangerous.  Dorcena Forry wants to win re-election next year.  Bill Linehan is facing Suzanne Lee, a Chinese American woman who narrowly lost last time, this fall.  (The South Boston council district includes Chinatown and what people would call “downtown” Boston, so it is not really a Southie seat.)  So this morning the headline read

After backlash, St. Patrick’s roast dispute is over

Dorcena Forry to host fest as councilor relents

The resolution followed mounting criticism of Linehan’s refusal to allow Dorcena Forry to host the event, as officials from the governor to the mayor to the mayoral candidates said she was the rightful emcee.

The controversy shined an uncomfortable spotlight, at least momentarily, on racial tensions that many hoped Boston had left behind. It touched a raw nerve from the halls of the State House to the walking paths of Castle Island.

Many who live in South Boston will be unhappy because Linda Dorcena Forry is not only Irish but has dark skin, but most won’t really care.  But for politicians – particularly the white men running for Mayor this fall – it was important.  They mostly lined up to support Dorcena Forry.

“It will be different, but Boston is changing, South Boston is changing,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino said after a ribbon-cutting in Faneuil Hall. “Let’s have a change in leadership over there, and let’s have Linda Dorcena Forry be the mistress of ceremonies.”

And so she will be.  By next March, it is possible that there will be Councilor Lee and the Mayor of Boston will be black or Hispanic.  Boston is changing fast and Southie has to change also.  Maybe I’ll watch the breakfast next year:  All the folks running for Governor will be putting in an appearance.

Photograph: Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff/file

Change comes to South Boston

If you know anything about South Boston it is probably from the busing crisis of the 1970s when images flashed across the country and no one could believe they were from Boston and not Mississippi or Georgia.  Images like these.

sb1sb2sb4

Or maybe it is from reading “Common Ground”, the Pulizer Prize winner by J. Anthony Lukas which followed families through the crisis.  If this is what you remember, it has all just changed.

Yesterday, May 1, 2013, we all woke up to the reality that the next state senator from the district that includes South Boston will be Linda Dorcena Forry.  The “Southie Seat” has moved into a new era.  Boston has changed.

Linda Dorcena Forry held her daughter Madeline Forry, 2, as she celebrated a possible close victory at Phillips Freeport Tavern in Dorchester. (taken before Nick Collins conceded.)

Linda Dorcena Forry held her daughter Madeline Forry, 2, as she celebrated a possible close victory at Phillips Freeport Tavern in Dorchester. (taken before Nick Collins conceded.)

Linda is Haitian-American married to Bill Forry the Irish American publisher of the Dorchester (MA) Reporter.  South Boston, like it or not, is represented by a woman of color from a mixed marriage.  My fearless prediction: they will come to love her.  I have yet to meet anyone who can resist her enthusiasm and energy – or any of her four children.  I first met her nine years ago, before she ran for office, and have followed her career ever since.  She will win over those Collins (and Dahill) voters from Southie.  The Globe story this morning points out

The race was no easy win for Forry. The Wednesday morning hugs and handshakes among her, Collins, and Dahill came as the candidates were processing an Election Day fraught with mishaps. Voting day began with incorrect ballots distributed at some South Boston polling locations. Then, as votes were being counted that evening, the Associated Press erroneously ­declared Collins the winner, ­only for the final tally to show Forry with a 378-vote lead.

Forry’s path to victory was carved in Dorchester, Hyde Park, and Mattapan, and despite her poor showing in South Boston.

She will have the support of Collins (no word on Dahill) and of former Mayor, Ray Flynn.

For decades, men from South Boston have held the First Suffolk seat, which also includes Mattapan and a portion of Hyde Park.

Jack Hart Jr., who resigned the seat in January to take a job with a law firm, has held it since 2002, when he was elected to replace US Representative Stephen Lynch, a native of South boston. Before Lynch, the seat was held for 25 years by William Bulger.

“I never refer to it as the Southie seat,” Hart said in an interview Wednesday. “The reason South Boston has historically held that seat is because they’ve had higher turnout.”

Now, Hart and other members of South Boston’s political old guard insist that residents will unite behind any leader, from any part of the district, who listens to their needs. That includes Forry, a Haitian-
American, who finished a distant third among South Boston voter.

I know Linda and she will be out there with her family and the South Boston residents she meets will fall in love the way the rest of us who know her have.  Times have changed.

“I thought Collins should have won it,” said Bill Barrett, a 65-year-old South Boston resident, as he sat on the park benches on Castle ­Island, where people gather to catch a sea breeze and gossip. “It’s been a long time since that seat has left South Boston, but [Forry] seems like a nice lady.”

Barrett said that the neighborhood and district are different from those he remembers as a young man, but that change is not always bad.

“Change can be good,” said ­Barrett, who is retired. “There are a lot of young people moving into South Boston, but I think ­Dorchester also wanted a voice, too.”

She still has to win the special general election but her opponent, Dorchester native Joseph Anthony Ureneck, has already all but conceded.  It will be fun to see Linda inject some life into the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast next year.

Photograph of Forry Jessica Rinaldi for The Boston Globe

Photographs of busing from democratandchronicle.com, civilrights.wikispaces and busingproject.blogspot.com