Governor Deval Patrick took to the podium at the postprimary Democratic Party unity breakfast at the Omni Parker House Wednesday to rally his party around its US Senate nominee.
But first, Patrick addressed Tuesday’s other Democratic primary, one that was more bitter and competitive and that threatened to divide a state Senate district that is home to the complex political powers of South Boston and Dorchester.
“We are a unified party,” he said, after calling to the stage Linda Dorcena Forry, the victor in the primary for the First Suffolk state Senate seat, and the two South Boston Democrats she defeated, Nick Collins and Maureen Dahill.
But as Collins graciously conceded, congratulated his opponent Wednesday morning, and vowed to help her win the May 28 general election, South Boston voters were still digesting the fact that for the first time in recent memory, they will be represented by someone from outside the neighborhood.
“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.”
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 voters.
“The color of Linda’s skin will have nothing to do with anything,” said former mayor Raymond L. Flynn, one of South Boston’s best-known figures, who supported Collins. “People in South Boston are just like people everywhere. When they call her office, they want somebody to return the call and try and help them.”
Forry will now face off in the general election against GOP candidate Joseph Anthony Ureneck, a Dorchester native who has run unsuccessfully in the past for City Council and the Governor’s Council. Most observers — and even Ureneck — expect Forry to win handily.
But while few South Boston voters and officials are openly criticizing Forry, some have laid the blame for Collins’s defeat at the feet of Dahill.
A political newcomer and South Boston native, Dahill earned 1,593 votes, many of which are assumed to have been siphoned from Collins. As the race was called for Forry on Tuesday night, some of Collins’s supporters who had gathered at the Blarney Stone in Dorchester blamed Dahill for their candidate’s defeat.
“I think she was a spoiler,” said Paul McNiff, a 55-year-old retired South Boston resident as he walked along Castle Island Wednesday.
McNiff, who said he liked Collins for his “style,” nevertheless noted that the demographics of South Boston are changing. “There are a lot of out-of-towners moving in; it’s not the same neighborhood anymore,” added McNiff.
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.
Her supporters – among them many of the city’s leading minority lawmakers – praised her eight-year tenure as a state representative who advocates for people in disadvantaged communities. Her victory in the special election primary, they said, marks a new chapter for women and the city.
“This is imperative to other young women who are coming up, especially young girls, who are seeing what she has done, where she came from, and where she is going,” Indira Alvarez of Dorchester said as she shopped at South Bay Center. Alvarez said she knew Dorcena Forry when the two worked together in City Hall more than a decade ago.
Dorcena Forry highlighted the new, diverse Boston during her victory celebration Tuesday night at Phillips Old Colony House on Morrissey Boulevard.
“We have an incredible coalition, ethnically, culturally,’’ she said to a cheering crowd. “This is the face of the city of Boston.”