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BOSTON--In a morning of wry wit, green ties and Irish sing-alongs, Massachusetts politicians gathered to roast each other yesterday at state Senate President William Bulger's annual St. Patrick's Day Breakfast.
With statewide races heating up this election year, the breakfast was a baptism of fire for many political hopefuls, especially Republicans, who were present in unusually large numbers at the Democrat-dominated event.
There were several people who were conspicuously absent from the procession of jokesters who took the microphone during the three-hour long event. Among them were Democrats U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, and gubernatorial candidates Francis X. Bellotti and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy.
The Democrats jabbed at their Republican counterparts as wealthy, blueblood Yankees, the Republicans countered with jokes about the Irish and the state's fiscal mess, and candidates hoping to make a splash at the event took aim at their opponents in both parties.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Silber, for instance, poked at the Republicans when he quipped, "You know how to make an old Brahmin laugh--you tell him a joke when he's young."
Silber, commenting on the controversy he stirred with recent remarks to the press, said Bulger had once given him advice on handling the media.
"I've tried to take your advice," Silber told Bulger. "And having taken it, you see the trouble I'm in."
More than 300 people crammed into the Bayside Club in South Boston for about three hours of political wisecracks. But in a year when the state's budget deficit is growing and the economy sputtering, the atmosphere seemed muted, the jokes restrained and good cheer in short supply.
Bulger got things rolling by saying the event would steer clear of difficult issues facing the state. Commenting on Attorney General James Shannon's recent admission that he smoked marijuana while in college, Bulger said, "Today it's going to look like pot smokers on parade. But I tell you this promises to be a genuine grassroots campaign."
The outnumbered Republicans took plenty of verbal potshots from Bulger and returned volleys of their own.
GOP gubernatorial hopeful William F. Weld '66 said the race had been fun "ever since John Silber threw his mouth into the ring," referring to Silber's controversial remarks about immigrants, alcoholism and Jews.
Weld also said he went to bed every night praying to wake up Irish Catholic. "I'll just do anything to get elected," Weld said.
Responding to cracks about the Brahmin bluebloods, Weld told the crowd, "It's no picnic being a Yankee WASP. Every other ethnic group is allowed to get drunk and eat interesting food and raise hell. I've got to sit around with all my cousins in dim lit musty rooms... reading the Harvard Alumni Bulletin and talking about my ancestors."
U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy II continued on that theme when he suggested he had stayed out of the gubernatorial race when he heard that Weld spent $250,000 of his own money on his campaign.
But he took some ribbing when Bulger told Kennedy, "I know you'd find it real rough."
Republican quips about the state's fiscal crisis preceded the appearance of Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and his wife, Kitty. Bulger defended the embattled governor and alluded to the state's fiscal mess: "It gets me mad when people say the state is in chaos. Chaos--those were the good old days."
Dukakis seemed delighted to deliver wisecracks of his own, even if it was at his expense.
Referring to the Republicans angling for the job he is giving up, the governor said, "compared to those guys, I'm charismatic. I'm the greatest stand-up comic in the world compared to those guys. Don't let it happen.
"You think I've been a little dull."
The breakfast was followed by the city's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, which began at 1 p.m. at the Broadway Red Line MBTA station and looped around South Boston, a stronghold of the city's Irish-Americans.
Under gray skies that threatened rain and put a damp chill into the day that hovered around 50 degrees, a crowd of about 80,000 gathered along the parade route, police estimated.
The weekend's festivities also commemorated the 214th Evacuation Day, the anniversary of British troops being forced out of Boston.
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