Monday, July 07, 2008

Wilkerson's Many Trusses

Among the few disagreements I've had and still have with Bay Windows is over whether State Senator Dianne Wilkerson is worth re-electing. Some see a noble warrior, who deserves repaired armor and a watered horse to continue the good fight. Others say, yeah, she's done a lot of good, but is a disgrace to voters as well as herself, that eight terms has been plenty.

For the 2006 campaign, I got the word from then long-term editor-in-chief of both BW and the South End News, Susan Ryan-Vollmar. She freely acknowledged Wilkerson's many tax, financial and campaign-accounting problems. The senator came close to indictments that could have led to jail time and loss of office.

Yet, Ryan-Vollmar pointed out that Wilkerson had been just too valuable to too many. In her district, black voters, the poor, and those GLBT residents each point to one or more causes she's fought for or grants she's brought home. They aren't willing to take a chance on a clean reformer with the same passions and politics. It's the devil they know.

We heard the revivified chant of this in the South End News this week. The replacement Ryan-Vollmar, Laura Kiritsy, wrote of Wilkerson's own chorus of political supporters. The piece listed fund-raiser supporters:
  • Senate President Therese Murray
  • GLAD attorney Mary Bonauto
  • Rep. Liz Malia
  • Murray's Deputy Chief of Staff Jerome Smith
  • Plus allusions of support from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Gov. Deval Patrick
Oddly enough and as usual, her weakest voiced supporter seems to be herself. Wilkerson appears to be no orator. She often blows off appearances and debates. Even Kiritsy's piece quoted Murray at length but had a single Wilkerson citation that was itself derivative — If you're picking up this consistent theme, it's, "I had a meeting with the Senate President." She was referring to Murray lobbying for Wilkerson's re-election.

I have yet to find a 2008 Wilkerson website. While Project Vote Smart has a rich set of pages, Wilkerson's old site is still up. It has her drumbeat of stick with what you know and a long list of the bacon she's brought home to the voters.

That is really impressive for a state senator. This is the real problem facing second-time challenger Sonia Chang-Diaz. Wilkerson may not be articulate before groups, but one-on-one in the senate, she can apparently get people behind her programs and issues. Even as an accomplished activist, Chang-Diaz butts against incumbency. She can say where she's headed —quite convincingly— but she has no footprints. Plus, it's reasonable to ask what the ramp time would be before she's truly productive for her constituents.

Disclaimer: I supported Chang-Diaz in 2006 and she has appeared on our Left Ahead! podcast series.

An intriguing question this year is whether the election climate has shifted enough to reform to overcome Wilkerson's inert glow. In a state where voters will surely go strongly for reform candidate Barack Obama in the big election, will they want to toss this rascal?

Wilkerson has no doubt benefited from representing Boston and nearby. We have a long history of supporting scoundels and other colorful politicians. If anything, we can distrust the upright and strictly honest ones.

On her site, Chang-Diaz has chosen to make her second attack less on the obvious moral and ethical shortcomings. She stresses issues. That section of the site is much beefier than Wilkerson's, which is entirely on her voting record. Even so, it is too general to suit me. Chang-Diaz promised us that she'd expand the problems and her proposed solutions as the campaign heated up.

I have no doubt Wilkerson has no intention of keeping pace. Instead she relies on winning again through inertia. That has worked and could again.

Chang-Diaz has been doing the exhaustively necessary though, ringing bells and walking the concrete. She's had a lot of help from an energetic mom and her astronaut dad is supposed to fly up to help too.

So, what chance does the at least as progressive and much more personable and brighter Chang-Diaz have? Can Obama's call for change swing voters on local as well as national campaigns?

I for one can't wait for some debates between the Second Suffolk candidates.

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Steve Garfield said...

"...her astronaut dad is supposed to fly up to help too."


That's great.

massmarrier said...

Steve, you weren't supposed to notice...and I thought you didn't do political stuff anyway.