After a year off and a year of distant jokes and exchanges between Boston’s political leaders, the annual St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast was back in person last Sunday with State Senator Nick Collins who hosted the event on his return to the Boston Convention and Expo Center.
The tension of a two-year-old pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine loomed over the event as politicians offered hints of sincerity between trademark tortured breakfast roasts. Those gathered were “back without masks and, for some of us, self-respect,” Collins said as he greeted the crowd. Senate Speaker Karen Spilka said she was thrilled that the event’s in-person return offered everyone a chance to “laugh, or at least cringe, together.”
Together, indeed, they can “get through anything but the Republican primary,” Collins said, gently nudging Governor Baker, who is not running for a third term. He was expected to face a surprisingly tough MassGOP primary with a challenge from his right.
In a musical parody of Pink Floyd, Collins took aim at the Massachusetts governor’s “radical” Republican reputation and his reluctance to impose and maintain statewide Covid-19 mask and vaccine policies, and him blamed missing his “brother,” former Mayor Martin J. Walsh. , who currently serves as U.S. Secretary of Labor.
Politicians undermined the gubernatorial race for sharper digs. Mayor Michelle Wu recalled burying a time capsule behind City Hall that is full of “a lot of stuff to leave behind — face masks, vaccination mandates, Marty Walsh’s dream of to be a governor. The latter, at least, remains alive, Wu joked. Rumor has it that the former mayor and resident of Dorchester was seriously considering running for governor until Attorney General Maura Healey entered the race.
Spilka said he was told to keep his remarks as brief as “Ben Downing’s gubernatorial campaign” and offered a large inflatable “lame duck” to Baker.
Several speakers took shots at former State Rep. Geoff Diehl, a Republican gubernatorial candidate endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Spilka riffed on an imaginary daily schedule by Diehl that included an anti-science rally, a Capitol insurrection, and a 2 p.m. book burning.
Electing Diehl would “set us all back 50 years,” Wu said. Looking ahead to the open race, she quipped, “There’s no telling which female Democrat from Boston you’ll be congratulating in eight months. .” Healey and State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, the two Democrats vying for the job, both joked about life on Zoom and suggested Baker could take inspiration from Tom Brady’s about-face retirement from football .
While Healey laid out lessons for his return to campaign life inspired by other Boston politicians — namely, building a Wu-level social media brand and taking a shoe note from Sen. Ed Markey’s Nikes — Chang -Diaz suggested that favorite Healey use her overflowing war chest “to finally teach members of the state legislature how to use the mute button on Zoom.”
Attendees of the maskless event referenced Boston’s lifted vaccination mandates and early morning protesters outside Wu’s home in Roslindale. In a moment that drew genuine laughter from the crowd, Norfolk County Treasurer Michael Bellotti read out fake intercepted letters telling the day’s news.
“Dear Mayor Wu, thank you so much for courageously adhering to the strictest possible Covid restrictions for the City of Boston and putting public health before all other selfish interests,” Bellotti said. “Please don’t give in. Signed by Mayor Tom Koch and the Quincy Restaurant Association.
The breakfast high table included a range of old and former city councilors, including Andrea Campbell, who is currently running for attorney general. A crowd full of lieutenant governors and aspiring state auditors made short presentations in a speed race hosted by Councilman Frank Baker near the end of the breakfast.
US Representative Stephen Lynch, a staple of the event, was not at breakfast. He and other members of a delegation of US lawmakers visit Ukrainian refugee centers in eastern Poland. Other absences from the delegation: US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Markey, as well as US Representative Ayanna Pressley.
Baker applauded Lynch’s foreign policy work and offered a Lynch-style joke about a Dublin man who drowned from drinking too much Guinness. But he, like several other speakers, ended on a softer note during his final St. Patrick’s Day breakfast as governor.
“Despite the brutality, the trauma, the disruption, the isolation and all the other things that accompanied this very difficult – and sometimes tragic – time, people were kind to each other,” the governor said.