Bill Linehan had better warm up his vocal cords and bone up on his bad jokes.
The city councilor from South Boston said Tuesday that he will host the annual St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast this year, taking over from former state Senator John A. Hart Jr., who recently resigned from the Legislature to take a job at a law firm.
Linehan’s star turn in the kelly green limelight represents a break from tradition.
Hosting duties at the political roast historically fall to the state senator from South Boston. For the last 11 years, that was Hart. Before him, it was Stephen F. Lynch, now a congressman running for US Senate. And before that, it was William M. Bulger, the Senate president. But with the storied seat vacant this year, the august honor of crooning Irish tunes and cracking wise about politics has fallen to Linehan, a South Boston native elected to the City Council in 2007.
“I like to sing and dance and tell a few jokes, so it will give me an opportunity to strut my stuff,” he said Tuesday.
Linehan, a former Parks Department employee, is not known for dazzling his colleagues with witty repartee during City Council meetings. But he is not likely to be stricken with stage fright either: he sings and plays guitar in a family band, the Linehan Brothers.
“They’re pretty good,” Hart said. “They do a little Beatles.”
The breakfast inspires its share of fans and critics. In past years, it was not uncommon for the president to greet the audience by phone from the White House, in a nod to South Boston’s prominence on the political scene. These days, some see it as a hoary bastion of tasteless jokes and old-boy networking.
Linehan, however, has fond memories of the roast. He recalled attending one as a teenager in the 1960s when Senate President Maurice A. Donahue was the host. Back then, Linehan said, it was a smaller celebration held just before the big St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Linehan said he was chosen to lead this year’s breakfast on March 17 in part because Lynch is busy running for Senate and Nick Collins, the state representative from South Boston, is running for Hart’s seat.
It may be just a one-off gig for the councilor. Next year, Hart’s seat will be filled, and the new state senator will presumably seize the emcee’s microphone.
Linehan is trying to keep expectations low, saying he is sure he will make some mistakes, “but that’s part of the fun.”
Attendees will include Governor Deval Patrick, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, US Senators Elizabeth Warren and William “Mo” Cowan, US Representative Edward J. Markey, and Lynch.
Hart said he told Linehan to be himself and enjoy the moment. “It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to host the event,” Hart said, “just because of the tradition.”