Friday, August 27, 2010

Back to Black in 2nd Suffolk?

My racism antennae are twitching again about the 2nd Suffolk Senate race. Two years ago, Sonia Chang-Díaz wrested the seat from indicted, now convicted Dianne Wilkerson. We heard such nastiness in that campaign. It appears to be steaming up again.

Back then when the ever ditzy Wilkerson ended up having to run a sticker campaign after not even bothering to collect enough sigs to get on the ballot, she had no qualms about smearing Chang-Díaz with double race dirt. Not only was the 2nd Suffolk by rights an exclusively African-American seat, she held, Sonia supposedly wasn't even Latina enough to suit the JP side of the district.

As I wrote at the time:
Racial and ethnic factors. Wilkerson has done herself no favors casting this contest as black v. other. She continues to say that the turnout for the black Presidential candidate will be huge and suggests that it will automatically translate into stickers for her. In her mind that seems to work because she and her supporters have increasingly framed this election as being for a dedicated black legislative seat, and that somehow a Latina doesn't qualify as of color. After years of winning a lot of Latino votes by calling for diversity and more legislators of color, Wilkerson is likely to lose quite a few votes on this pivot. The Latino community should not be happy about not being dark enough to suit her.
You bet those were cheap, desperate shots. Yet they weren't enough to cost Chang-Díaz the election. However, we have to wonder how divisive they were, particularly in setting up a sense of victimhood in the predominately black parts of the 2nd.

Dem primary challenger Hassan Williams is not overtly racist on his website. He's been less circumspect in his public appearances. Moreover, the Bay State Banner has run heavy handed quasi-editorial pieces pitching the 2nd as the black seat again.

Banner zing: That article had an amusing aspect graphically as well. It led with a large picture of the Senator in a parade, apparently windblown. She's widely agreed to be very attractive (as in my snap of her below) and the weekly must have had to dig deep to find the most unappealing image it could.

Williams is in the unenviable position of rying to unseat an effective pol who is not corrupt. Moreover, he has to play me-to with her record. She led on successful, long-overdue CORI reform. Her long list of voter-favored legislation in the pipeline makes Williams' proposals seem, to put it kindly, derivative.

The Banner has never been subtle nor even handed. It's advocacy journalism can fill in for the our two big dailies in covering issues and the larger communities otherwise ignored. Yet the weekly's coverage too often journeys into innuendo, rumors and emotion.

For example on this race, in writes in supposedly a straight news story:
But whispers continue to plague Chang-Diaz’ campaign. And Williams is only too glad to raise some of them — and try to tap into Chang-Diaz’ thin support in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods.

The 2nd Suffolk District was redrawn in 1974 by court order as the state’s first and only majority-minority Senate district and stretches from Beacon Hill to Mattapan and includes Chinatown, Back Bay, the Fenway, the South End, Roxbury, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain.

At the heart of the problem is the perception that the 2nd Suffolk includes two distinct districts, a division that was underscored during the 2008 primary that saw Wilkerson earn the votes of mostly blacks, Latinos and Asians in Roxbury and parts of the South End while Chang-Diaz pulled white progressives from Jamaica Plain and other parts of the South End.

Wilkerson lost to Chang-Diaz by just 228 votes in the primary. She won every precinct with a majority of black, Latino and Asian voters. Chang-Diaz won every precinct in the district with a white majority.

In all, the 2nd Suffolk District is about 45 percent white, 25 percent black, 15 percent Latino and 8 percent Asian. While the majority of district residents of voting age are people of color, whites in the district still have higher voter registration rates. And during the last primary, whites had higher turnout.
So here we are again, reducing representative democracy to race, as well as promulgating rumors. Writer Howard Manly oreads like Wilkerson sounded in the last version of this. Neither seems willing to admit that racially and culturally, the Senator is a fair representative of the sprawling district. That she is not black, as Williams is, is indisputable, but so is the fact that she certainly is of color. Arguably, her Latina/Asian makeup as well as her gender more reasonably keeps the balance the Banner article portrays as upset by her victory in the 2nd.

More important, she's proven a solid legislator who works for and gets what her constituents want and need.

As unreasonable as it would be to expect the advocacy weekly to be even handed, we can hope that Williams doesn't fall back on racism and victimhood.

As it is, he had a hard argument to make — specifically that Chang-Díaz has done important stuff, but he could do even better. Not only does she have the record and he does not, he fell into sophistry. First on CORI reform, he claimed she was only taking credit for Wilkerson's work. There, many including Wilkerson had tried and tried. Chang-Díaz took the lead and actually got it done. Williams' slur is plain silly.

On the same subject, he called the groundbreaking accomplishment only a good start. Degrading this with vague futures insults the many who worked on this with her, as well as showing real ignorance of political process.

So, Williams looks at a wired, progressive, accomplished lawmaker and would have us believe his two years would have been much better. I remain to be convinced and Williams using his skin tone as an additional argument won't help.

Let's hope that he's savvy enough not to make this another race-based contest.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

JP Progressives, a local political organization, recently held a forum for local candidates. All candidates filled out a questionnaire in advance. From his answer, it seems pretty clear that Mr. Williams is far more conservative on social issues then former Senator Wilkerson. In fact, it seems from this questionnaire, and his responses at the forum, that he does not support a woman's right to choose and refuses to take a public position on marriage equality. For all of Senator Wilkerson's ethical mis-steps, she was still a progressive champion. Mr. Williams it seems has a very different political philosophy.

Both candidate's responses to the questionnaire can be found at:

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