By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
---- — BOSTON — The usual sting of Massachusetts politics was leavened with humor as pols poked fun at themselves and launched zingers at the annual South Boston Saint Patrick’s Day Breakfast yesterday.
“I was going to wear a big ‘Kiss me I’m Irish’ button today, but Lord only knows what the Herald would have said,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren told the crowd at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, referencing the tabloid’s coverage of her avowed Native American ancestry.
Irish ballads interspersed elected officials’ forays into stand-up comedy, and master of ceremonies and Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan bounded about the dais, singing and commenting on the material.
“It’d be easier if I was drinking,” Linehan said at one point.
Rep. Dan Winslow, R-Norfolk, was the lone Republican contender in the special U.S. Senate race to attend the breakfast, and Winslow didn’t take the microphone, though the two Democratic challengers for Secretary of State John Kerry’s former seat did.
Both candidates have burnished their blue collar bonafides with accounts of the jobs they held before running for public office, and those backstories were fair game yesterday.
“The Democratic election will be historic no matter who wins. Either I will be the first ironworker elected to the United States Senate,” Congressman Stephen Lynch said, pausing for applause before the punch-line. “Or Ed Markey will be the first ice cream truck driver. So we’ll either have a voice for working families or we’ll have a voice for Ben and Jerry’s.”
The dean of the Congressional delegation who was first elected to Congress in 1976, Markey had his own take on his and Lynch’s beginnings.
“I’m prepared to show my long-form birth certificate, proving that I was born in Congress,” Markey said. “And Steve and I are good friends. Steve and I are good friends. This is a really good race. And we’re really going to maintain our friendship out of it. He’s prepared as well. He’s got his long-form birth certificate saying that he was born with his workboots on, in a manger that he welded together himself. That’s Southie.”
Lynch, who hosted the breakfast when he was the state senator from South Boston, may have had a hometown advantage, though he had to bat first. Lynch was seated closer to the podium than Markey, who sat to the right of Boston City Council President Stephen Murphy, and Markey referenced Southie’s solid support of Lynch when he said his South Boston coordinator is “in a witness protection program at an undisclosed location.”
Markey also took a shot at the neighborhood’s annual parade, which has long been subject of criticism for excluding contingents from gay rights groups, using the conclave that recently selected Pope Francis as a point of reference.
“That conclave was really something, a bunch of old men, nearly all of them white, believing themselves to be infallible, ignoring all external pressures, remaining immune from all accountability no matter what they do. It kind of sounds like the South Boston Parade Committee,” Markey said.
“Okay, he’s bait,” Linehan responded. Later, Linehan said, “Isn’t he a great sport? Coming into the lion’s den, and even picking on us.”
Both Markey and Lynch left the breakfast early to march in a parade in Holyoke.
Former Gov. Bill Weld endorsed, in his own humorous way, Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to raise taxes, as part of a $1.9 billion revenue package.
“I alone perhaps of all people in the room think this is a great thing, because it’s the rebuilding platform and program for the Republican Party of Massachusetts,” said Weld who was elected on the heels of Gov. Michael Dukakis’ tax hikes, beginning a 16-year streak of Republican governors.
While Winslow was the lone Republican Senate candidate on hand, his two rivals for the seat, Michael Sullivan and Gabriel Gomez, as well as the party itself were the butt of some jokes.
Noting that the Republicans had held their first candidate forum at a yacht club, Markey launched into a satirical rousing refrain.
“They’ve organized every yacht club, every country club, every golf club. From the greens to the fairways, it is a true grassroots movement,” Markey said. “The Republicans, they’re going to knock on every six-room summer home in Massachusetts to get the vote out.”
The breakfasts were previously hosted by former Senate President William Bulger, who lives in South Boston. Bulger’s brother, the notorious alleged killer and mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger, is heading toward a trial at the nearby Moakley Federal Courthouse. That particular fraternal relationship was not the subject of any dark humor at the breakfast.
After the ceremony, Weld told reporters that he had seen the former Senate president Saturday night.
“I was with Bill Bulger last night at the Clover Club at the Park Plaza in Boston,” Weld said. “It was great.”
Linehan exercised his vocal chords singing along to Irish tunes, which gave Warren an opening to discuss another type of “singing.”
“I understand Bill wants more people to sing this year,” Warren said. “On Beacon Hill I understand that usually means going before a grand jury.”
Treasurer Steven Grossman, who is considering a run for governor, made himself the punch-line, when he said, “I do have something else going for me that nobody else in the race could have: charisma.”
Grossman also referenced patronage hires, which have allegedly been a way of business at the Treasury before Grossman’s time there.
“We’ve done a lot of reform at Treasury since I got there. We now hire at the Lottery totally based on merit,” Grossman said. “So now the jobs at Treasury are given away based on who’s going to work the hardest on my campaign and who gives me the most money.”
Mayoral politics were on the menu as well, as Boston Mayor Thomas Menino once again provided clues but no definite answer to the question of whether he will run for re-election this year. The rare retirement of a pope provided a ready allegory for Menino, who has been in office a record nearly 20 years.
“Interesting that no one told the pope that it was a lifetime job, you know, like mayor of Boston,” Menino said. “So no pope has retired in over 600 years. See, don’t worry guys, only 580 more years to go . . . Can you imagine someone with supreme power stepping down and letting someone else take over? Me either.”
Boston City Councilor John Connolly, who has announced his own run for mayor, slipped into the mayor’s seat while he was speaking, only to be scolded by Menino from the podium.
“Hey kid, get your own seat. Get in the back row, will ya,” Menino said.
Later, as Menino was making his way out of the building, Connolly took the microphone and said, “If anyone has any questions on my candidacy I’ll be out in the parking lot. My car will be the one that’s been towed.”
Boston City Council President Stephen Murphy’s jokes at the expense of the mayor later in the program left him wondering about the fate of his car, as well.
“I’ve known Tom Menino for 41 years. And he looks the same: old,” Murphy said. “I won’t say he’s losing his step, though, but last week it took him an hour and a half to watch Sixty Minutes.” As the crowd reacted, Murphy said, “My car is being towed now, folks.”
Rep. Nick Collins (D-South Boston) also unleashed some zingers at the expense of House Speaker Robert DeLeo and the treasurer, and the crowd’s reaction left the candidate for Sen. Jack Hart’s recently vacated seat contemplating the necessity of leaving the lower chamber for the upper chamber.
“We all know the speaker isn’t that funny, so I just wanted to make sure we got the reps here as much as we could to laugh at his jokes. You think it would be tough to get all of them in one place on a Sunday, but actually all you need to offer them is a free meal and a per diem,” Collins said, referring to the payment that some legislators receive for their travel to work. Collins followed up those quips by saying, “I’d better win this race.”
The treasurer was also a target of Collins’ wit.
“Thank you for putting me on after Steve Grossman. I think I’ve had vanilla ice cream with more flavor than that guy,” Collins said, eliciting some shocked sounds from the crowd. “Oh, we love Steve.”
Patrick delivered a video message, which featured a cameo by Lt. Gov. Tim Murray in a racecar driver’s suit, and Senate President Therese Murray attended an event her district.
The video showed a fake press conference, where Patrick said that the new reality shows “Southie Rules” and “Wicked Single” were so bad he had declared a state of emergency and issued a driving ban.
“Did he say driving ban,” the lieutenant governor said, appearing on screen in his race suit.
While jokes got the most laughs, about half the program was devoted to music. Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover), who was Barry “O’Finegold” for the day, showed off his musical talent, playing trumpet for a rendition of the sea shanty “What shall we do with a Drunken Sailor.”