This past September, the state primary, which featured abysmal turnout, primarily due to the lack of interesting races and often the lack of challengers led to something of an upset in Boston.
Senator Dianne Wilkerson, the incumbent in the Second Suffolk District, lost the primary to challenger Sonia Chang-Diaz. The District, which consists of Back Bay, Jamaica Plain, and Roxbury among other neighborhoods, voted to nominate Chang-Diaz, but less than a few hundred votes. Nonetheless, and despite a recount, the results were definite.
However, Sen. Wilkerson is not giving up. As she did two years ago, when she failed to garner enough signatures for the primary ballot, Wilkerson is running a sticker campaign. Unlike in 2006, this campaign will be for the general. Wilkerson expects energized turnout for Sen. Barack Obama to bring out the black vote and send her back to Beacon Hill. Notably, the senator is the only black member of the Massachusetts Senate.
Sen. Wilkerson's decision to run despite the will of the (however few) people is not in and of itself problematic. Joe Lieberman did it, but then again look what trouble that brought us? (For the record, this blog supported Joe Lieberman at the time.) What is a problem is the senator's decision to run as a Democrat in the general. Her decision has forced many of her supporters, among them Governor Deval Patrick, to support Chang-Diaz instead.
Still others, including State Rep. Marie St. Fleur are backing the incumbent. The consensus among her die hard supporters seems to be that the loss of the state's lone black Senate seat will be bad for the African-American community. Some noted that the seat was created for that purpose. It is unfortunate that no other Senate district in the Commonwealth is able to elect an African-American, but that is due in to the low turnover on Beacon Hill and Boston having arguably the densest black population in the state.
Districts designed to incorporate minorities were created in an effort to give such groups voice in statehouses nationwide and on Capitol Hill. Gerrymandering had previously diluted such communities to effectively silence them. However, to use that argument as a reason why Wilkerson herself should be elected in the face of a election is politically dubious. Certainly her district, whatever its designers' intent is not wholly black and furthermore is the intention to send only blacks to Beacon Hill?
Some would answer yes and certainly members of the community are best able to represent that community. However, are not people of other races also able to represent such communities if they win in great measure by their support? Is United States Representative Mike Capuano, whose district includes Roxbury and minority communities in Chelsea and Cambridge, unable to represent their grievances in Washington? As of 2000, nearly a quarter of the district was black.
The effort to send more blacks, Hispanics, and other representatives of minority communities to the halls of power might trump the above argument if for one thing: Sen. Wilkerson herself. As recently as October 4th, more news added to the list of scandals involving the Senator. Wilkerson faces disbarment regarding allegedly false testimony in court. According the same Globe article, Wilkerson has not practiced law in a decade and has had a suspended law license since 1999. It was suspended following a conviction for tax evasion.
In August, again according to the Globe, she paid $10,000 in fines for campaign violations and acknowledged the violations. The violations stemmed from failure to report contributions and inappropriate reimbursements. Clearly, Sen. Wilkerson has had some trouble. Sen. Minority Leader Richard Tisei noted that she had great potential when first elected. However, since then, her tenure has been sullied, by very public indiscretions.
It is impossible to know if Sonia Chang-Diaz will be a better representative for the Second Suffolk, than the Senator. However, Sen. Wilkerson's behavior does not reflect well upon her district and only serves to undercut whatever good she has done and continues to do. It is hard to not to see her perseverance as anything but vanity, rather than noble service.
*Photo of Sen. Wilkerson from the Massachusetts Senate Website