Groans outpace guffaws at St. Patrick’s Day breakfast
Vice President Joe Biden’s phoned-in appearance at the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in South Boston Sunday was a bit long. It was not terribly funny. And his ode to Irish heritage was more maudlin than moving.
After one attempted — but failed — interruption by the host, state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, and some awkward silences, the vice president finally yielded to US Representative Stephen F. Lynch.
“I just hope he didn’t call collect — holy cow, holy cow,” cracked Lynch, a South Boston Democrat. “That was painful!”
And so, order was restored at a storied, but often cringe-inducing event that briefly detoured into the lively and historic last year when Dorcena Forry, a Haitian-American woman, assumed hosting duties at a roast long dominated by Irish-American men.
This year, the host retained her spark, but those she introduced mostly hewed to the breakfast’s history: jokes proudly delivered and poorly received, interspersed with occasional laugh-out-loud humor.
Sunday’s notable first came not at the breakfast, but at the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade that followed, with organizers allowing two organizations representing gay men and lesbians to take part after years of court battles and recriminations.
US Senator Edward J. Markey, echoing a line from Irish poet Seamus Heaney, sought to link the two events in a paean to inclusivity. “On a day in South Boston, when Linda is to host and the LGBT community can march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade,” he said, “hope and history are rhyming.”
Amid the often flat attempts at humor, a few of the speakers, riffing on Boston’s Olympic bid and the failures of the storm-ravaged MBTA, managed to elicit guffaws from the hundreds dining on sausage and eggs at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren, who got more laughs than most, took a shot at an erstwhile political rival.
“Since the last time I was here, I’ve really focused on the economy. There are a lot of people out there who have entirely given up on looking for work,” Warren said, pausing for a moment. “But enough about Scott Brown.”
Brown lost his 2012 tilt with Warren and then another US Senate election — this one in New Hampshire — last fall.
The line drew sustained laughter from the Democratic-leaning crowd, as did her dig at a former governor and presidential candidate. “This winter has been so brutal that Mitt Romney left his money here and he went to the Cayman Islands,” Warren said.
The winter theme was a constant.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoofed his many snow-related news conferences in a video that included Star Wars jokes (“We have reports of a young Jedi gone missing on ice planet Hoth,” he announced from the podium) and a nod to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (“We’re on to the next storm,” Walsh snapped at an aggressive reporter, in an echo of Belichick’s dismissive “We’re on to Cincinnati” line after a disastrous loss last season).
Near the start of the breakfast, Governor Charlie Baker appeared in a video with Dorcena Forry, waiting for a bus driven by departing MBTA general manager Beverly Scott, who announced her resignation amid the T’s winter woes.
Later he appeared onstage with the sort of law enforcement and emergency personnel that flanked him during storm-related press conferences this winter and delivered a faux weather update: High levels of hot air emanating from the convention center, he said, would lead to significant snow melt along the parade route.
Several speakers made reference to hefty consulting fees collected by those working on behalf of Boston’s Olympic bid — many of them veterans of former governor Deval Patrick’s political operation.
“Look at all these elected officials here today, all of them,” Dorcena Forry said. “You know they must have thought this is a Boston 2024 job fair.”
The honor of hosting the breakfast traditionally belongs to the state senator in the “Southie seat,” a post held in recent decades by a parade of powerful Irish-Americans, from William M. Bulger to Stephen F. Lynch and John A. Hart Jr.
Today, the district stretches into Mattapan, Hyde Park, and Dorcena Forry’s Dorchester. And when she won the seat in 2013, her victory was widely viewed as a symbol of a shifting city.
But City Council President Bill Linehan, who filled in as breakfast host while the Senate seat was vacant, declined to yield to Dorcena Forry in the run-up to last year’s event, saying the emcee has “always been someone from South Boston.”
The controversy served as an uncomfortable reminder of the city’s history of racial tensions. And it brought a wave of support for Dorcena Forry, with officials from the governor to the mayor of Boston urging Linehan to yield.
He did, eventually. And when he skipped the breakfast for a trip to Ireland last year, he became the target of the sharpest jokes at the roast.
This time, Linehan appeared, made some gestures at reconciliation, and offered up several jokes. At one point, he held feathers behind his head as he poked fun at Warren’s claims of Native American heritage.
Nearly all his gags fell flat.