It is an annual rite of March on the city’s political calendar: For decades, Massachusetts politicos have gathered every year around St. Patrick’s Day for breakfast, an abundance of jokes that fall flat, and copious back-slapping.
The South Boston tradition differed in at least two respects Sunday. The event was conducted virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it came just days before a historic mayoral transition.
“This is my final St. Patrick’s Day as mayor of Boston, that makes it bittersweet,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who is expected to be confirmed by the Senate as the nation’s next labor secretary on Monday.
Walsh joked he was grateful that the five major, declared mayoral candidates have already offered to drive him to the airport.
“Thank you, but I’m all set,” he said.
Once Walsh steps down, City Council President Kim Janey will become acting mayor. Janey, who has planned a swearing-in ceremony for Wednesday, will be the city’s first Black and first female mayor. She was among the pols to participate in Sunday’s event and referenced her new gig with a mock pledge to stay humble.
“I will not let being mayor go to my head,” she said, before donning a tiara.
This year’s breakfast, hosted by state Senator Nick Collins from his South Boston home, comes amid the rapidly developing mayoral race. In addition to the group of already declared candidates, others, including Collins and Janey, are said to be seriously mulling a run.
Allusions to a possible Collins mayoral run were made throughout Sunday’s shindig, including references and jokes made by Collins himself. Another local leader who was thought to be considering entering the race, Karilyn Crockett, took herself out of the running in a Sunday Facebook post, saying: “The timing is not right for me to make a run this round.” Crockett, who recently resigned as the city’s equity chief, did not participate in Sunday’s breakfast.
In addition to the usual corny jokes, congressman Stephen Lynch read a William Butler Yeats poem during Sunday’s celebration, which was broadcast on NESN and WROL. There was some Irish folk music. And President Biden filmed an address for the breakfast, calling the Irish the only people who are “nostalgic for the future.”
The field of declared mayoral candidates was also heard from. Councilor Andrea Campbell jokingly congratulated Collins, saying that the slate of speakers at the breakfast “has absolutely shattered the city of Boston’s diversity in contracting goals.” Another councilor who is running for mayor, Annissa Essaibi George, joked about the media portraying her as a political ally of Walsh, showing a series of family and campaign photos, including at least one from her wedding day, featuring poorly photoshopped images of the mayor.
John Barros, who recently resigned as Walsh’s economic development chief and is running for mayor, deadpanned that one benefit of having a virtual breakfast was that he wouldn’t have to eat corned beef and cabbage and pretend to like it. Another mayoral candidate, state Representative Jon Santiago, partook in a bit of Irish dancing and was featured in a hammy vignette about space-savers in Southie.
Said City Councilor Michelle Wu, who is also running for mayor, “I’ve been steadfast in my goal to shatter the highest of glass ceilings: becoming the first person to actually be funny at this breakfast.”