Linda Dorcena Forry both broke and set precedents when she narrowly won her election to represent the First Suffolk District in the Senate in 2013. White Irish men from the political enclaves of South Boston and the Southeast corner of Dorchester had an ironclad grip on the district before Dorcena Forry narrowly defeated State Rep. Nick Collins, an heir apparent who would've continued representing a district where 60 percent of residents are people of color.
In breaking that precedent, she also set another. She became the first African-American to host the St. Patrick's Day Breakfast and opened the door to people of color to compete for the district. But now she is exiting for the private sector, and with her goes the sole black voice in the 40 member senate.
She will be settling into a chair at one of the most influential construction companies in the state — Suffolk Construction. Next Wednesday on Valentine's Day, Dorcena Forry gives her farewell speech on Beacon Hill, a date her Chief of Staff Ceferina Murell called appropriate, describing Dorcena Forry as the heart of the chamber who is taking leave. Before she bids her public farewell, Dorcena Forry sat down with WGBH's Morning Edition for an exclusive exit interview that covered her 22 years in public service, her future working at Suffolk Construction, and the apprehension she feels leaving the Senate where's a vacuum in permanent leadership and African-American representation.
Dorcena Forry acknowledged the concern that her exit lessens an already nearly non-existent presence of diversity in a chamber that's described as more liberal than its House counterpart. While Dorcena Forry was careful to praise her colleagues liberal credentials, she also acknowledged that the Senate could do better to incorporate more perspectives.
"My colleagues have been working hard, and [the Senate] is in good hands," she said. "But I do think it's important to have diversity in leadership roles because of our lens and the voice that we bring to it."
She also said her exit wouldn't come at the cost of promoting issues that defined her 22 years in public service, like advocating for economic equality and opportunity. She's leaving to become vice president of the Northeast Region for diversion, inclusion, and community relations, a role in which she hopes to facilitate more business between Suffolk Construction and minority-owned businesses.
"I'll be able to bring everything that I've been able to do as an advocate," she said. "Working on issues that have serious impact on access and opportunity to make sure people have the chance on the private side. I hope to continue to be the voice for those who are sometimes unheard,"
Dorcena Forry said she made the transition to help financially support her four children and ailing parents. But some political analysts speculate it's because she couldn't gather the support among her Democratic colleagues to assume the position as permanent Senate president after Sen. Stan Rosenberg stepped down following sexual misconduct allegations circling his husband.
Dorcena Forry denied this, but her departure certainly isn't clearing the way for a single front-runner. At least four candidates have emerged looking to assume the presidency. The pressure on Rosenberg to publicly renounce any intention to return as president is growing. Speaker Robert DeLeo said the jockeying for a permanent position is creating a distraction as the Legislature enters a shortened session where they have to pass a budget and revisit major pieces of legislation on criminal justice and healthcare.
Gov. Charlie Baker said if the latest allegations are true, Rosenberg should step aside from the presidency, and Dorcena Forry agrees.
"It is a sad time because there is a lot of work to do in the Senate, and, you know, this is a distraction," Dorcena Forry said. "I think the Senator needs to take responsibility to move aside so this body can continue to do the work."
But after this session, those internal power struggles will no longer be a concern. Her focus lies in the future as a private citizen.