Danny Ryan was on one side of the walkway and Mike Donovan was on the other side. The two had grown up together, but for most of a sunny Tuesday in late April, they stood a foot apart, palm cards in their hands, on the sidewalk leading into the Cristo Rey School, a polling place for Savin Hill’s Ward 13 Precinct 10.
Ryan, a Savin Hill native who moved to Braintree four years ago, tapped the cards bearing the face of state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry’s in his left hand as voters walked by while Donovan, the clerk for Suffolk Superior Court’s civil division, touted his candidate, state Rep. Nick Collins. The two Democratic lawmakers were in a close special primary for the First Suffolk Senate seat that had opened up in January when Jack Hart left for a job at a law firm.
After the ballots had been counted, Dorcena Forry was the winner in Savin Hill, a crucial battleground. Her margin there was razor thin: 290 votes to Collins’s 284. Maureen Dahill, a blogger from South Boston, received 17 votes. In the overall district balloting, Dorcena Forry captured 47 percent, or 10,214 votes out of the 21,730 that were cast.
Days later, sitting in an armchair inside the lobby of Columbia Point’s Doubletree Hotel, Ryan took off his baseball cap, revealing wispy red hair, and quietly reveled in his work on Tuesday.“For me, selfishly speaking, it was the most satisfying victory of my political career,” said the 69-year-old Ryan who was wearing the same Boston College Hall of Fame pullover that he had worn on the day of the election.
He had stood outside the Cristo Rey School for 13 hours, he said. “I didn’t want to miss anybody. I’m a big believer in having somebody at the polls.”
On election days, he says he is usually running on pure adrenaline, up and at the polls by 6:45 a.m. Of his standing in place for 13 hours, he said: “On a regular day, I couldn’t stand in my living room for a half an hour. So many people came out – some knew who they were voting for, some were undecided,” he said. And he was able to flip many of the undecideds to his candidate, campaign insiders say.
Asked what his pitch was, Ryan alluded to the long line of men who have held the seat, including Hart, Stephen Lynch and William Bulger. “I reminded them that we have been very well represented by South Boston senators,” he said. “Dorchester needs a senator that they can call their own.”
Donovan, his longtime friend, provided “nourishment and good conversation” throughout the day, he added.
Ryan has been passionate about politics for decades. He has been sober, he said, since 1975, and “this filled the gap.” He has worked on various campaigns – James Michael Connolly’s City Council bid, Bob Rufo’s runs for sheriff, and Dave Finnegan’s mayoral campaign.
“I won some, I lost some, and some were rained out,” he said.
Ryan pointed to others who helped in the First Suffolk race, too, rattling off a list of Dorchester residents that included Paul Nutting and Eileen Boyle, among others.
Dorcena Forry is facing nominal opposition in the May 28 general election. Dorchester Republican Joseph Ureneck, who went unchallenged in the Republican primary and picked up 829 votes, will be on the ballot against her.
For his part, Ryan was back at it on the Saturday after the First Suffolk race, sitting in the audience as state Rep. Marty Walsh, a fellow Savin Hill native, stood on the Strand Theatre’s stage and announced his run for mayor.
“I’m a competitor,” Ryan said with a smile the day before. “And I enjoy the fight.”