You could spot a difference in the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast right from the start this year: The comedic opening was actually funny.
There was a video of Linda Dorcena Forry in front of the convention center sticking Bill Linehan in a cab and then explaining to the driver, in subtitled Haitian Creole, “Remember what we talked about. You need to take him on a long, long ride.”
And with that video Dorcena Forry strode into the breakfast, leading the crowd in the St. Patrick’s favorite, “Step Into the Parlor.” It had taken her roughly two minutes to completely own the event.
A little explaining for those who may have been too busy to pay attention this winter: State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry is the first non-Irish person and non-South Boston resident to hold what is referred to as the Dorchester-South Boston seat, not to mention the first woman and the first black. With that seat has, traditionally, come the honor of hosting the legendary South Boston St. Patrick’s Day breakfast. So she cheerfully wrestled the job away from the previous fill-in host, City Councilor Linehan, who wanted to hang on to it. Linehan skipped the breakfast, opting to celebrate the holiday in Ireland’s Limerick.
In interviews leading up to the event Dorcena Forry had promised a different tone, and she delivered it. Behold the kinder, gentler version of the politically barbed breakfast, more holiday dinner than sharp-elbowed roast.
Dorcena Forry was terrific. She was funny. She was self-deprecating. She threw a few well-placed jabs. She was clearly having a great time. That in itself set her apart from some of her less deft, post-Bill Bulger predecessors. She had some support, in the form of cameos by Bulger, Congressman Steve Lynch, and Jack Hart, who once held the seat that is now Dorcena Forry’s. He appeared in videos helping her to prepare for the historic event. But she succeeded through her own humor, warmth, and force of personality.
The late-breaking news that former mayor Thomas M. Menino is being treated for cancer threatened to cast a pall over the revelry, but Dorcena Forry didn’t allow it to. “He doesn’t want to see our long faces,” she said. “I’m a firm believer in the power of laughter and light.”
Linehan was the target of ribbing from his fellow pols. He brought it on himself, by missing no opportunity to appear small at every turn of the breakfast controversy.
Not surprisingly, the veterans of breakfasts past were often the strongest performers. Lynch, who used to host it, can do the brunch in his sleep. Ed Markey was pretty good. Bob DeLeo wasn’t hilarious, but he was better than he used to be. Deval Patrick declared that he was relieved that this was his last breakfast, although he held the crowd’s attention and got his share of laughs — especially with jabs at his former opponent, Charlie Baker.
Baker choked up telling a moving story about the Dropkick Murphys graciously playing at the memorial for a fallen serviceman who was one of their fans. But he then launched into a limerick about Linehan, the last line of which had an anatomical reference I can’t print. It was more jarring than amusing.
Perhaps the oddest thing, in the end, was how normal the breakfast seemed. The tunes, the banter, even some of the jokes resembled any breakfast of the past 15 years. Somehow the breakfast was both a radical departure and not all that different.
And therein may lie a lesson: Incremental change isn’t nearly as scary as some people would have you believe. Give or take a little Haitian Creole, a roast is just a roast.