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Patrick cancels talk at men-only event

Had not been aware of Clover Club rule

By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / December 7, 2009

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Governor Deval Patrick canceled at the last minute a speech he was scheduled to give before a little-known but prestigious men’s group, saying the invitation was accepted before he knew of its policy toward women.

Patrick withdrew from the speech before the 126-year-old Clover Club about two hours before a dinner was scheduled to begin at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel on Saturday, according to event organizers.

“The invitation was accepted by staff without a full understanding of the club’s traditions for [the] event - specifically its policy of not allowing women to attend the function,’’ the governor’s communications director, Kyle Sullivan, said in a statement last night. “When the governor recently found out about the fact that women were not allowed to attend such functions he expressed his concern to the organizers and decided not to attend.’’

“He appreciates the long social and cultural history that the Clover Club has played in Massachusetts and the role the club continues to play in the lives of its present-day members,’’ Sullivan added.

Jack Quinlan, secretary of the Clover Club, said one of Patrick’s aides called about 5 p.m. to say that the governor was unable to make it.

“No reason was given,’’ Quinlan said. “Nor did we ask any reason. The guy’s the governor of 6 million people. We just accept that something came up. . . . He’s the busiest guy in the state, and if he could’ve made it, he would have. Hopefully, we’ll get him another time.’’

When asked whether the club has had other cancellations, Quinlan said, “There’s certainly been some for weather. Beyond that, I don’t know.’’

A Patrick aide said there had been conversations between administration officials and club officials on Friday and Saturday to express the governor’s concerns.

When the announcement was made at the dinner on Saturday night that Patrick was not going to speak, the audience applauded, according to one attendee, although it is unclear whether that indicated ill feelings toward the governor or simply that people wanted to call it an early night.

“For me, it got me home 40 minutes earlier, so I was very happy,’’ said Kevin Phelan, who is president of the Colliers Meredith & Grew commercial real estate firm and attended the event. “It’s no reflection on the governor.’’

The club, organized in 1883, was founded by a group of Irishmen who wanted to regularly dine and play cards together. It has grown to an organization of prominent business and civic leaders, and it holds three dinners each year that often include irreverent roasts, skits, and songs.

Quinlan described the club yesterday as “a private social club, a group of guys that get together. It’s kind of like girls’ night out.’’ He did not respond to phone messages last night after Patrick released his statement. The club’s president, James Brett, also did not return calls.

Quinlan would not name previous speakers, but Phelan named Charlie Baker, a Republican gubernatorial candidate; Andrew Card, former chief of staff to President George W. Bush; and former White House adviser David Gergen.

In 1999, when Irish consul Orla O’Hanrahan and Irish Cabinet member Mary O’Rourke visited St. Patrick’s Day parties, the pair did not attend the Clover Club dinner because it was all male.

In 1994, former mayor Ray Flynn spoke to the group after Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who had just become the first non-Irish mayor in more than 60 years, declined an invitation because he had to travel to Washington for a US Conference of Mayors meeting.

In 1992, the Globe reported that then-Secretary of State Michael Connolly nearly got booed off the dais when he delivered a lecture on every presidential race since 1948. Some clinked their glasses, and one guest yelled for him to get off the podium. He made it only to the 1984 campaign, then cut short his talk.

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.