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Citizen Deval

Howard Manly | 7/15/2011, 1:45 p.m.
Massachusetts state Treasurer Tim Cahill (r), who ran for governor, and state Sen. Jack Hart, D-Boston (l), held up a poster with the superimposed head of current Gov. Deval Patrick, as Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino looked on at the annual St. Patrick’s breakfast in South Boston. AP /Michael Dwyer

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Massachusetts state Treasurer Tim Cahill (r), who ran for governor, and state Sen. Jack Hart, D-Boston (l), held up a poster with the superimposed head of current Gov. Deval Patrick, as Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino looked on at the annual St. Patrick’s breakfast in South Boston.

As part of next week’s National Urban League Conference, UMASS-Boston is scheduled to release its “State of Black Boston 2010 Report.” Sponsored by the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts and the Boston branch of the NAACP, the report includes a section on Civic Engagement. Here is an excerpt.

At the annual St. Patrick’s Day roast of Boston politicians, the air was rife with discontent among the Democratic faithful. There was good reason. Little known state Sen. Scott Brown had just scored a stunning upset to claim the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Ted Kennedy.

Underneath the laughter and good-natured ribbing was the very real possibility that Deval Patrick, a close political ally of U.S. President Barack Obama, could lose the upcoming gubernatorial election. Some of the faithful doubted whether Patrick’s grassroots message of “Together we can” could overcome the global recession and its impact on the local economy. And some blacks were whispering that Patrick had not done enough to reduce the high black unemployment rate or increase diversity within state government.

But on this day, when scripted jokes were the traditional currency, Patrick had something else in mind during his turn at the podium.

After delivering a quick ba-da-bing punchline on the campaign’s three candidates — “tall, dark and handsome,” Patrick took direct aim at one of his two opponents: state treasurer Tim Cahill.

It was widely believed at the time that Cahill’s candidacy would siphon off votes from Republican candidate Charlie Baker and thus enable Patrick to squeak out a win.

In fact, and in keeping with the tradition of an Irish roast, state Senate President Therese Murray held up mock cover photos of the books several Massachusetts politicians were writing, including one by Patrick. “How I got re-elected” was the title, Murray quipped, and on the cover was a huge headshot of Cahill.

Given those strange politics, Patrick’s jab was a bit out-of-place and sounded more appropriate out on the campaign trail. But as far as Patrick was concerned, he was on the campaign trail. The state pension fund had lost millions under Cahill’s leadership, Patrick pointed out, and the state Lottery had never made its revenue goals since he began as governor in 2007.

“To be governor,” Patrick deadpanned in what he later explained as an unscripted line, “…at a minimum, you have to know how to count.”

The response from the audience of 700, many of whom where there to laugh, was immediate.

First a murmur, then silence.

Without a doubt, Patrick has made a lot of folks quiet. He can also count. His political appeal cut across all racial, ethnic and class lines in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a three to one margin — 37 percent of registered voters are Democrats, 12 percent are Republicans and 51 percent are unaffiliated.

Not since 1966 when Republican Edward W. Brooke III became the first African American to be elected by popular vote to the U.S. Senate had an African American politician done as well in Massachusetts. But unlike Brooke’s landslide win that saw him earn 60.7 percent of the vote to Democratic Endicott Peabody’s 38.7 percent, Patrick won by the thinnest of margins.