On July 13, 2010, state Representative Linda Dorcena Forry started the day at her office in the Massachusetts State House and gave birth to Madeline Casey Forry - her third child and first daughter - that same afternoon.
Eight days later she was back on Beacon Hill for a House vote in formal session. The days and weeks leading up to the end of a legislative session on the last day of July are crucial, as hundreds of bills get funneled through the House and Senate and onto the governor’s desk.
In the two weeks after the baby’s birth, Forry was in and out of the State House five times. During the maternity leave that followed, she held regular meetings at home with Robert Cahill, her chief of staff, to review constituent requests and catch up on legislation and community meetings. She also remained actively involved in advocating for support of the survivors of the earthquake in Haiti and services for the local Haitian community.
Forry credits her work ethic and commitment to service to her parents Annie and Andre Dorcena of Dorchester, who are Haitian immigrants. Her mother is a retired health aide for seniors and her father worked in housekeeping for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Children’s Hospital.
A graduate of Monsignor Ryan Memorial High School in Dorchester, Forry earned a bachelor of science degree from Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. She is currently enrolled in the Mid-Career Masters of Public Administration program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and will begin her studies in July.
She is married to Bill Forry, managing editor of The Reporter newspapers, and along with Madeline, they have two sons: John Patrick, 7 and Conor Joseph, 4.
Forry was first elected to the 12th Suffolk District seat in the House of Representatives, which covers parts of Dorchester, Mattapan, Milton and Hyde Park, in a special election held in the spring of 2005. She is the second Haitian-American elected to public office in the state - and the only one currently in office.
“It never mattered whether people lived in my district,” she said in a recent interview. “My staff knows that everyone who calls this office, whether constituents from my district or members of the [larger] Haitian community, should receive help if they need it. They should know that their concerns matter to us and that we will respond in a timely fashion – whether it’s regarding a pothole or a letter of support. I worked as a legislative aide, so I understand how important it is to address people’s concerns.”
Haiti has been a top concern for many of her constituents. After last year’s disastrous earthquake, she attended community gatherings, fund-raisers and memorial services where she shared her testimony to rally assistance for the survivors and their families.
On the national stage, Forry, as a member of the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network (NAEHON), advocated for immediate relief efforts with senior officials in the Obama administration and the State Department. Locally, her staff has fielded thousands of calls from families who were searching for news about their loved ones, who needed assistance with filing for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), or who were looking to contribute to the relief efforts.
She has maintained regular contact with Governor Deval Patrick and U.S. Senator John Kerry, briefing them on the community’s needs and having her office serve as a conduit of information to the community about available state services and updates from the federal government.
More than a year after the quake struck, she is as passionate as ever about her advocacy for and with the community.
“Now we have to focus on how we can organize the Haitian populations across the state,” she said. “We need to [advocate] in one voice. There are so many different organizations that I want to help connect. My role is to challenge people and ask is there another organization doing that? Maybe you can contribute your expertise and help [it] grow and work together.”
One issue that Forry has been very vocal on is immigration – specifically those Haitians who have been cleared to come to the U.S. on humanitarian parole. When asked why she thinks the federal government has been slow with this, she said, “I commend Senator Kerry for filing legislation to help them come here. They should be allowed to come. We need more advocacy. It’s not just a political thing. I don’t know why it’s taking so long for the [Obama] administration to deal with this.”
In 2009, she was appointed to her current role as House chair of the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business in which role she conducted an eight-stop listening tour last year to learn more about the challenges facing the small businesses in her district.
“We wanted to make sure we were doing everything we can to support small businesses – the backbone of our state’s economy – through these rough economic times,” she said.
One issue rose to the top during her tour – state fines on health insurance coverage for their employees. In the healthcare reform law that was passed in 2004, a formula was created to determine if small businesses were doing their part to cover their employees.
“Based on the state’s interpretation of the law, we concluded that we needed to clarify the law. So we introduced legislation to clarify the formula so that small businesses would no longer be penalized by these extra fines,” she said. This legislation was signed into law last year.
In her six years in the Legislature, Forry has held several leadership positions: Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Service, member of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy and the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. She is also a former chair of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.
In all these roles, she has been a lead sponsor and champion of some of the most critical issues facing the state - including pension reform, CORI reform, and the creation of the Food Policy Council that deals with disparities in access to quality nutrition.
She says she’s very proud of her success in getting money back into the state budget for her district – from public works projects like the redesign of the high-traffic area at Morton Street and Gallivan Boulevard and street improvements in Milton - to saving the Greater Boston Food Bank from losing more than $4 million.
“During the recession many people are using food banks to put food on the table,” she said. “There was a 25 percent increase in food bank usage in 2010. And programs like this have great outcomes. We should continue to fund programs that have measurable outcomes. I make sure it’s one of the key things we focus on when we evaluate services.”
Her favorite Haitian proverb is Dèye mòn gen mòn – there are mountains beyond mountains.
“In life, there’s always another challenge where you can use the things that you’ve learned to do better.”