In her own words: Dorcena Forry reflects on her public life, and what’s ahead

Linda Dorcena Forry is shown in April 2005, when she was sworn into office as a freshman state representative. AP photo

Linda Dorcena Forry is sticking around, just not in a seat in the state Senate.

The 44-year-old former senator has spent fully half of her life in public service, first as an aide to then-state Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie, then working in City Hall until she won her first term as representative for the 12th Suffolk seat in 2005, and finally in the Senate after she finished on top in a tight race for the First Suffolk seat in 2013, a post she held until the end of January.

As she continues her segue into the private sector, readying for her farewell speech before the legislature, Dorcena Forry took time out recently for a wide-ranging breakfast discussion at McKenna’s Café in Savin Hill. Excerpts from the interview follow:

On moving to the private sector:

“I feel good, I do. I’m excited about this new chapter, excited to join Suffolk Construction, an exceptional company, to work for an exceptional John Fish and his team. So I’m looking forward to it.

“A lot of times people don’t remember that I’ve been in public service for 22 years I’ve been thinking about transitioning, because I think it’s important to be well-rounded, and to be that I have to have private sector experience. This opportunity presented itself. I recognize that opportunities like this don’t come often, and so this was the time for me to do this. I know people were shocked, but I think they realize, ‘Okay, Linda did everything.’ I gave my time, I contributed a lot, raised four children, and you know, it was just time.”

On the local political front:

“It is quite an amazing time with six women of color serving on the Boston City Council – unheard of. Andrea Campbell is the city council president, and before that it was Michelle Wu. You still have the Black and Latino caucus, Latino and black folks elected throughout the Commonwealth who are going to be the voices for those who aren’t there. It’s important to have people run, it makes the incumbents better, whatever may happen.

"As to Ayanna Pressley running for Congress, she has spent a lot of time in the city council, and it’s her right. She can run. Anyone can run for office, and I think it’s exciting. It will be up to the voters of the Seventh Congressional District in the end. I’ve worked well with Michael Capuano around all the issues in the district, so it will be fascinating to see what happens.”

On the race to succeed her: Two questions: Do you have to be Linda Dorcena Forry to win an election to represent South Boston in the Senate? And is it within reach for a representative like Evandro Carvalho, a Dorchester resident whose district overlaps with the Senate district only on the fringes, who is facing state Rep. Nick Collins, a South Boston resident?

“I don’t think you have to be Linda Dorcena Forry. I don’t. It’s about the messaging, and how the community reacts to you and how do you make people feel in terms of being their voice on the Hill.

“I’m hopeful that people will look at my collective record as an elected official for 13 years, but really my 22 years in public service. I represented half the district before I ran for the Senate. I represented Hyde Park, I represented Mattapan, I represented Dorchester up to Ashmont station, and that was the 12th Suffolk district, so I had Milton, too. And then for the First Suffolk Senate district I had from Ashmont station, all the way up Dorchester Avenue to Fields Corner, to Uphams Corner, to Bowdoin-Geneva. South Boston is part of it as well. I grew up in Uphams Corner. I was an aide to Charlotte Golar Richie when she was a state representative.

“I went to all these meetings in Meetinghouse Hill, in Bowdoin-Geneva and Fields Corner, so I knew a lot of people. I mean I've been working in the whole community, including South Boston. I didn’t work much in South Boston before I ran, but I knew the people in South Boston. There were two people running from there, and I did campaign in Southie, but I focused on Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park, because that was my base. And I say that because I think anyone can win; it’s about how hard you work. We knocked doors, man, I mean we worked hard, and I worked hard when I first ran for office. And people don’t give credit a lot, but I’m going to take it – eight hours a day, seven hours a day on the doors. I lost 20 pounds on the campaign trail.

“I represented half the district as a state rep, so I would say I had an advantage. I mean, that was the work I did for eight and a half years as an elected, and before that going to meetings, being the voice in constituent issues. We’ll see what happens."

On the diversity of the Senate without her:

“There are 40 senators and there were only two of us. I was the only black senator. Sonia Chang-Diaz the only Latina Asian. I think it’s important, and that’s in everything — in government, in private sector, in executive leadership – to have voices of people of color at the table bringing a different dynamic. That’s something I weighed, because leaving is not something that came immediately. It was like, wow! If I leave, there’s not going to be anyone. But I had to do things for my family and for myself, and this was an opportunity that got presented, so I decided for me. Folks in the First Suffolk are going to make a decision once they see all the candidates who have come out. But for me to go into Suffolk Construction and work with John Fish and the leadership team is critical because a lot of times you don't see people of color in these roles.”

On the state of the Senate:

“It’s wonderful that Harriette Chandler is the Senate president. Back in November, the story came out of nowhere. No one expected something like that around Stan [Stanley Rosenberg, then Senate president]. When he stepped down, which was the right thing to do in terms of the body, many people asked me to consider running for the office, and that was something I had to consider.

“I can tell you that during that whole discussion, the body was split. A lot of people felt that Stan Rosenberg could come back as president. I never felt that way. I thought he should have just done a clean cut, a break, and not consider running again because of this. It really took a lot of courage for the victims to come forward and to share their stories. It’s tough when stuff like that happens. Now the Senate is settling down under Harriette Chandler’s leadership. I’m happy that the Senate took away the “acting” because I never considered her acting anyway.

“So I am hopeful. I believe in my colleagues. And we can’t just go keeping hope alive that Stan can come back, because he can’t come back.” But again he is running for Senate. That is up to his district to see whether or not they send him back. He is a great legislator, he’s done great things in terms of the progressive voice, but there are other progressive people, there are other people who are Democrats, so it’s not one ideology. I know and I believe that my colleagues have learned from this, recognizing that it can’t just be about one person. It’s about the whole body. It’s about the institution. There are serious elections this year, some competitive races where Democrats are running against incumbents, and that’s fine. It’s democracy.”

On changing neighborhoods:

“There have been a lot of changes during my 22 years in public life. One of my big priorities when I came in involved the Neponset River trail, in terms of that missing link between Central Avenue in Milton and connecting Dorchester, Mattapan, and Milton. And I’m so happy that it is finally complete. It took us a while until it finally got completed, but we were able to get the money and I’m so proud of that. Transportation has improved tremendously around access to the Fairmount Line. The three stations have opened, now they’re working on Mattapan. It took a long time, but it was great because the community made it better, even though the process took forever.

“The goal is to get it to be a rapid transit system, like the regular lines along the way. Boston is a great city, but many people in the neighborhoods do everything in their neighborhoods, but we want folks to know, “You may be from Mattapan, but the whole city belongs to you. You may be from Dorchester, or Hyde Park or South Boston, but come down to Mattapan. Come visit, because we’re all in it.

"The connectivity is critical, even to the waterfront. Before l left, Nick Collins and I were working to see how to we get more transit to the waterfront. [Today], people will say, “Wow, I’ve got to take the Silver Line. What does that mean? Or go to South Station.” So how do we get more people to the waterfront, to access the jobs there, because there’s a lot of construction taking place and we want to make sure that people feel part of it and have opportunities."

On housing pressures:

“I was the past chair of housing in the Senate, where we worked on a lot of issues looking to create housing that’s affordable. For Mayor Walsh, that has been a priority for him: not just low, low-income, or no-income housing, but also the middle-income, in terms of people who are working, trying to buy that house, but it’s just not affordable. That’s a reality. Or renting is not affordable. So he’s working to create more.

"One of the things we tried to push is how to get our other cities and towns – we have 351 cities and towns – to help. Every time I speak I talk about this because we are all in it together. Boston can’t shoulder everything for everybody, and so we need the other cities and towns to meet the 10 percent of affordability that is required by law for their housing stock. So these are the things that [the Senate] hopes to get to the governor’s desk this session. Boston can’t shoulder everything.”

On projects she’ll keep watching:

“I’m not going to be far, because I’ll be in Roxbury, so I hope to be there for the ribbon cuttings. One of the big ones was the transit-oriented development project at Mattapan Station. That was a big one because the parking lot there was going to be a charter school, and I’ll never forget under Governor Deval Patrick we had Beverly Scott, the head of the MBTA, and we had this conversation with her: ‘Listen, you can’t sell this lot to the charter school because it is one of the last buildable lots in Mattapan, and it’s huge, and I need you to not do it so we can do transit-oriented development, which is commercial and residential as well.’ And she heard me. What’s exciting now is there’s a group that’s going to be developing that.

“I’m also happy that that charter school that wanted to be there, the Boston Preparatory Charter, found another place. I was in the school the other day talking with the students and taking a tour and it’s beautiful. And that’s what it’s about, right? You close the door on something, and then it’s how do you give people other options.

“It’s not just with education, it’s not just with commercial, it’s for individuals. How do we help families, and that’s what the work has been for me: How do we elevate people out of poverty? There is so much work that we can do because there is money to do it. We can do more with what we have, we can support organizations that are working for real, that show that they have the outcomes in terms of the metrics, and the data points that show that this program or that is working. Kids are struggling, and it’s very, very sad, and families are struggling and so we just have to figure out that.

“Is it a magic sauce? I don’t think so. People are bright in government, and sometimes we’ve just got to be willing to come to the table, and sometimes we have to be willing to shut down programs that aren’t working. That can cause a little tension, but it’s for the better. It’s active."

On the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast:

“The breakfast will continue. The South Boston delegation is meeting. We have a system in place, so the breakfast kind of runs itself. Event planner Dusty Rhodes has been fantastic. We’ve been working with her for number of years, so she has taken the lead in bringing all the vendors together. We’ll know soon who’ll be hosting, so stay tuned!

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