Senator Forry to host a 'breakfast of firsts' in South Boston

A year ago, she was in the thick of a special election to succeed Jack Hart in the state Senate. Now Linda Dorcena Forry, who eked out a win for the Senate seat, is in the middle of another campaign: Putting together the traditional St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast in South Boston.

On Sun., March 16, at 9 a.m., Dorcena Forry will become the first black person, the first woman, and the first politician from Dorchester to host the breakfast, which will be held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and broadcast on New England Cable News. Last year, after Hart had stepped down, and before the special election, City Councillor Bill Linehan filled in as the host.

Like Linehan and Hart, Dorcena Forry has created a nonprofit – First Suffolk Partnership, Inc. – to help raise funds for the breakfast, which in the past has cost between $60,000 and $70,000.

Dorcena Forry said that Hart and Congressman Stephen Lynch, another past breakfast host, have been helpful to her in setting up the breakfast. “Both of them have been key advisers and their teams have been stepping up to help my committee. So has Nick Collins as well,” she said, referring to the South Boston state representative, her rival last year for the state Senate seat.

Hart, whose breakfasts had a variety show style, said he provided some advice on hosting. “I just talked to her about my experience,” he said. “It’s an event like no other, locally. The toughest thing is managing the event during the broadcast, trying to give everyone their fair time, the more prominent elected officials, and trying to keep it spirited, with music and hopefully some laughter.”

Hart will be in Florida with his children for a sports tournament, but he said he hopes to watch the breakfast on the Internet. “I’m pulling for her,” he said. “It’s a tall task to pull off, but I think she’s up to the task.”

Dorcena Forry spent the weekend with Lynch, Hart, and Collins filming skits for the breakfast. Like past hosts, she has remained coy about details big and small ahead of the breakfast, a big one being the name or names of guests from outside the Massachusetts political world who will be attending, and a small one being the nature of the planned skits. “We’re having fun, that’s all I can say,” she said, adding, “The set is going to change a little bit. Every host puts their own stamp on it.”

Most bold-faced names on Beacon Hill will be in attendance, she said. That includes the big three – Gov. Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Congressman Michael Capuano, a Somerville Democrat who has often steered clear of the breakfast, will also be there. Asked about the historic nature of her hosting, she said, “This event has always embraced the idea that everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”

A Haitian American, Dorcena Forry and her husband, Bill Forry, the editor of the Reporter, have four children, two boys and two girls. She has been to Ireland three times, she said, but celebrating Irish culture is something “we do anyway” at their home, she added.

The breakfast has a locally fabled history going back to the days when the late Joe Moakley, a city and state politician from the 1960s who went on to acclaim as a congressman, and William Bulger, whose long run of hosting the breakfast was aligned with his long run as a state legislator.

This year, the breakfast will likely also feature another first, albeit an awkward one: Dorcena Forry will be the first host to not march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade through South Boston, which follows the breakfast. The parade has been the focus of a controversy extending back decades because gay and lesbian groups have not been allowed to march in it. In the 1990s, the US Supreme Court, citing the First Amendment, ruled that parade organizers, a group that includes the Allied War Veterans Council, among other organizations, can choose who can participate and who can not.

Elected officials had been working behind the scenes this year to broker a compromise. During a WGBH radio interview last month, Mayor Marty Walsh expressed hope that there would be a breakthrough, saying he would also like to march in the parade if gay and lesbian groups are allowed in.

“I hope that a compromise can be worked out,” Dorcena Forry said Tuesday. “But short of that, I expect that I will not walk in the parade.” She added that she will be attending events in the neighborhood, like the South Boston Boys and Girls Club luncheon, that center around St. Patrick’s Day.

Bill Linehan, the fill-in host last year who is now the City Council President Linehan, was briefly embroiled last fall in a neighborhood dust-up with Dorcena Forry over who should host the breakfast when he suggested that the host position belonged to a South Boston politician by tradition. After a day or two of news stories, the new state senator and the councillor agreed that she would preside in 2014, with Linehan saying, “I look forward to working with Senator Forry on presenting the St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast next year. Linda and I have had a long standing working relationship. I am confident that we can present a quality event that makes us all proud.”

But some things aren’t meant to be. Linehan will be out of town and marching in a different parade this year. He was invited by local officials to join the festivities in Limerick, Ireland, and earlier this month accepted their invitation. “The close links that exist between Limerick and Boston have continued to grow and flourish over the years and I have no doubt that this visit will further strengthen these ties,” said Limerick Mayor Kathleen Leddin said in a statement. “I am greatly looking forward to Council President Linehan’s visit.”