The Bay State’s top elected officials seemed almost like one big happy family as they gathered Sunday for a South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast that was gentler and more intimate than in many past years, trading light jabs but aiming many shots at their own reputations.
On rare occasions when anyone landed a real zinger, an awkward silence ensued among the politicians crowded onto the dais and the roughly 400 spectators packed inside the Ironworkers Local 7 Union Hall, where the event returned for the first time since it was moved to the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in 2005.
Congressman Stephen F. Lynch, who cohosted the breakfast with City Councilor Michael Flaherty, noted the more modestly sized space as he opened the program.
“A little cozy in here isn’t it?” he asked. “Good thing we’re all friends.”
Like old friends, the officeholders gently needled each other about mostly safe topics, such as Governor Charlie Baker’s sky-high approval rating — a recent poll showed he remains the nation’s most popular governor — and a much-discussed video posted on Twitter Saturday that showed Baker drinking a shot of tequila in a South Boston bar.
Baker responded wryly, “I really want to thank whoever it was that videoed me simply doing what everybody else does in South Boston on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, just enjoying myself a little bit at the L Street Tavern pounding back” — here he paused — “a shot.”
Flaherty told a joke about a Republican who died and went to heaven — “It could happen,” the Democrat quipped — and found a huge wall of clocks, each representing a single person and ticking forward any time they told a lie.
The clock for Mother Teresa, the nun canonized in 2016, had never moved, St. Peter told the Republican. “Honest Abe” Lincoln’s clock had moved only twice.
Asked about US Senator Elizabeth Warren’s clock, St. Peter replied, “Actually, her clock is down in Jesus’s office. They’re using it as a ceiling fan.”
After uproarious laughter from the audience, Flaherty added, “We know she’s going to run for president of the United States,” and asked the crowd to applaud for Warren.
Lynch and Flaherty stepped in to cohost the breakfast after former state senator Linda Dorcena Forry abruptly left Beacon Hill for the private sector in January, vacating the seat that has long held the unofficial duty of emceeing the event.
Lynch, a South Boston Democrat who had previously held that office, has hosted several breakfasts.
“I think the first year I did the breakfast, St. Patrick was actually in the hall,” he said Sunday, to a show of laughter.
Lynch, Flaherty, and other speakers praised Dorcena Forry for her years as lead organizer, fund-raiser, and emcee. Warren said this year’s cohosts proved “it takes two men to do the job of one woman.”
There were serious moments amid the comedy, as speakers paid tribute to military service members, veterans, and Gold Star families; to the resilience of the Irish people; and to the Colonists who fought in and suffered through the Revolutionary War.
There was no mention, though, of difficult issues closer to home, such as the sexual harassment scandal surrounding former Senate president Stanley C. Rosenberg’s estranged husband, Bryon Hefner, or allegations made by legislators Thursday on the House floor that Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has allowed sexual misconduct on Beacon Hill to be cloaked by nondisclosure agreements.
Rosenberg did not attend the breakfast. DeLeo — who has denied the allegations against him — spoke briefly, but kept his remarks to safe topics like Baker’s popularity and the appeal of corned beef and cabbage.
The president of the Boston City Council, Andrea Campbell — the first African-American woman to hold that post — told jokes that held harsh truths, as when she quipped about being mistaken at public events for fellow councilors Ayanna Pressley, Lydia Edwards, and Kim Janey. “Folks, not all black women are the same,” she said. “I am, however, confident that if we elect more women of color, it will be easier to identify each and every one of us.”
Several speakers took aim at President Trump, including Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston, who said Trump had paid tribute to St. Patrick on Saturday: “He wore green pants; he had a beautiful white shirt on; with his orange head — he was dressed as the Irish flag.”
Warren also jabbed Trump’s appearance, joking that she had captured the “essence” of his appeal and holding up photos of former vice president Joe Biden, former secretary of state John F. Kerry, Baker, and herself with their hair replaced by Trump’s distinctive swirly, ochre coif.
When Attorney General Maura Healey took the podium, she joined other speakers in joking about her rumored plans to run against Baker.
She had brought along a series of proposed campaign signs, including one that read, “Maura Healey for governor 2022.”
“Oops — wrong one!” she mock-exclaimed.
Healey also used Warren’s popularity to jab at 2018 gubernatorial candidate and former Newton mayor Setti Warren, brandishing a sign that said, “Warren for governor. As far as you know, it’s Elizabeth.”
When Baker took the podium, he pulled out his cellphone and took a selfie with the senator. “I don’t know if this helps or hurts either one of us, but it’s one heck of an opportunity,” he quipped, adding that when he told his wife, Lauren Baker, about the 70 percent approval rating his administration held in 2016, she responded, “You know honey, in our house a 70 is a C.”Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.