As state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry resigned her seat last Friday to join the private sector with Suffolk Construction, political observers were left to reckon with the loss of a prominent representative for communities of color across the city and the state.
Forry represented a unique voice in the Senate, a number of elected officials said. The daughter of Haitian immigrants, she took office 13 years ago as a state representative and solidified her position in an evolving city with a close 2013 election to the Senate’s First Suffolk District, becoming the first woman of color to take the historically Irish-American-held seat.
“The foundation of my public service career has revolved around creating opportunity and access and giving a voice to those who have none, and this work will continue for the rest for my life,” Forry said in a statement on Thursday when she announced she would resign the next day.
She noted that family considerations had contributed to the decision, including her wish to give more time to her family, including her husband Bill Forry, the editor of the Dorchester Reporter and their two young sons and two young daughters; her 80-year-old mother, who is caring for her father, an Alzheimer’s patient; and her 103-year-old grandmother, who is living in Forry’s childhood home in Dorchester.
“They have all sacrificed so much to make me who I am; it is now my turn to truly put them first,” she said.
At Suffolk Construction, a major Boston developer led by power broker John Fish, Forry will be vice president of the firm’s Northeast region dealing with issues of diversity, inclusion, and community relations.
“Linda Dorcena Forry held a very unique position in Massachusetts politics, and being able to host the Saint Patrick’s breakfast was a real coup,” said former city councillor Charles Yancey, who has known Forry since she was a staffer with former state Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie’s office. “She has a lot to be proud of and she will be missed.”
Former and current representatives, while congratulatory, said the change is a blow to communities of color. State Rep. Russell Holmes told the State House News Service that Forry's departure from the State House represents the loss of an important voice in the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus and the black community in a district where race relations have been historically fraught.
Former state Rep. Marie St. Fleur later told the Reporter: “She was the first Haitian-American to be elected to the Senate in Massachusetts. The symbolism of that and what it represents makes a huge difference in how people of color see themselves.”
Elected leaders were quick to salute Forry’s time in public service after her announcement. Gov. Charlie Baker called her a “dedicated and loyal public servant who has been a great partner” and Mayor Martin Walsh released a statement saying, “Dorchester will miss her passion and advocacy for all constituents.”
After succeeding Jack Hart in the state Senate, representing South Boston, Mattapan and Dorchester, Forry rose to a leadership post as assistant majority whip. She has been an outspoken voice for the Haitian community and all communities of color, particularly in the era of Donald Trump and his disparaging rhetoric regarding immigration and immigrants.
“I will continue to be a voice…we all need to speak up and stand up when we hear things that are off-color,” Forry told the Reporter on Monday. “When something is said, it can’t just be people of color [responding]. I’ve seen everyone is speaking up and saying that this is wrong.”
Forry’s departure kicks off a special election season while stirring a debate on continued diverse representation in the historic seat.
“It’s important for the state Senate and House to be reflective of the makeup of Boston,” Yancey said. He applauded the increasingly diverse city council, which includes six women of color, and said Forry’s election to the Senate “created a great opportunity for politicians of all races. It’s important that State House legislators back the appointments of people of color and women.”
In the coming weeks, Forry said, she plans to deliver a farewell speech and host a thank you reception for her supporters and friends. Her office will remain open and her staff will continue to work to help her former constituents until a successor is in place, she said.
The now-former senator isn’t planning to go quietly into private life. She will be living in Dorchester and working in Roxbury, she said, adding, “Know that this is not goodbye.”
Reporter Correspondent Maddie Kilgannon contributed to this report.