Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sonia v. Dianne, No Teeth on the Floor

We confess that we read and heard of the last bout debate between two candidates for Second Suffolk State Senator. There was shouting, finger-pointing and otherwise grand theatre.

Lackaday, last evening at English High, incumbent Dianne Wilkerson and Sonia Chang-Diaz did insult, accuse and one-up each other. Yet, it was the stuff of a cocktail party. Catty yes, threatening no.

The event was the Wards 11 and 19 Democratic forum. The senatorial candidates were the feature, two hours into the evening.

On Beyond Sloppy

This is the city that would elect a criminal -- James Michael Curley -- as alderman while he was in jail for fraud (and later kept him as mayor when he was in federal prison for official misconduct). So what's the big deal of the incumbent senator who:
  • Did not file federal tax returns -- repeatedly
  • Is being sued for allegedly abusing her campaign funds
  • May face perjury for dodgy testimony on a nephew's manslaughter conviction appeal
  • Could not be bothered to get 300 (yes, hundred, not thousand) signatures to get on the ballot, and thus runs a sticker campaign
In the old Boston, those would seem to endear her to the electorate and guarantee a re-election. Sonia has a very sensible, but hard to sell, campaign based on knocking the glory off such fetid traditions.

Unbidden, the others I was with left the auditorium saying, "Sonia's toast."

That may well be so. Voters sure like politicians who deliver constituent services. Dianne has sponsored or signed onto a lot of good legislation. She can claim credit for bringing millions into her district. She's been a monster fighter for civil rights of all types, including homosexual and same-sex marriage rights.

As a result, she has tons of supporters both by such groups as Mass Equality and other legislators. That may well be self-interested hypocrisy by the various interest groups, but it is certainly understandable.

Last night, Sonia said that if you wanted just experience, vote for Dianne. If you want constituent services and the right legislation, go with either one. If you want that with a guarantee of ethics and accountability, vote for her.

Of course, her major problem is that Dianne is the devil voters, rights groups, and legislators know. Sonia has all the credentials and gives all the appearance of a driven progressive. She seems vastly brighter and more personable than Dianne. I can believe quite easily that she would be more persuasive than Dianne and get more done. However, the entrenched folk who have endorse Dianne can't make that leap.

First Impressions

Now appearance certainly shouldn't make any difference in such races. Many of our more powerful, wise and important politicians have ranged from funny looking to plug ugly -- think Lyndon Johnson, Ed Koch, Barney Frank and on. Yet, in this race, the candidates' outside seems to reflect how they work and think.

The physical differences are sitcom intense. Sonia is slender and model/actress pretty, with those scary angled jawbones that define her face clearly. She pulls her hair back to accent her face too. She wears tailored jackets and trousers.

Dianne is a parody of all that. She's frumpy and dumpy. She has a thatch of either bad hair or a worse wig. She scowls like a don't-mess-with-me front-steps sitter. Last night, she had a too-tight pants suit that emphasized her potbelly. The garish gold fabric looked like it was nightclub couch upholstery. All around, she was sloppy.

That's what we see in each campaign too. Sonia is focused and tight and in control. Dianne does what she has to when she has to, but seems scatterbrained to the point of arrogance.

Well, fiddle-de-dee, many things don't take care of themselves, like tax reports and candidacy filing petitions. Oddly, in 14 years as senator, Dianne has not done what most powerful ditzes do -- delegate and hire the right assistants to make sure things happen.

We got to think shrink as the debate muttered on. Dianne has gotten herself into legal trouble repeatedly. Why wouldn't she get someone efficient to track the details?

It became obvious. At several points she said that she was undoubtedly the most prolific and efficient legislator in the General Court. In her closing remarks, she even said that if you added up everything all the other legislators had done, it "wouldn't equal half of what I have done."

So there you have it -- the great flaw of politicians, generals and business executives, the overweening ego. To her, her transgressions seem small prices to pay for her brilliant performance. Voters, other legislators, interest groups, even judges need to cut her slack, lots and lots of slack. Indeed, many seem to.

Missing Killer Instinct

Sonia returned, but too subtly, to the theme of holding public officials to higher standards. One in my group said that if she wanted to win on that platform, she needed to get down and dirty, and do it often. Call out Wilkerson for her shadowed résumé -- the crimes and stumbles and allegations. Sonia may simply be too polite to win.

On her part, Dianne has a Parade magazine defense. "I'm not perfect," she said. "I'm a work in progress." The undercurrent there was clearly that she was just like the voters, all too human.

To Sonia's point, Dianne's apology might cut it were she head of the weekly book club. As state senator, she falls far short of what voters can expect. I wonder how many may face perjury charges, allegations of funds mismanagement, and federal tax charges and penalties.

Sins in my family included laziness, inefficiency, dishonesty, irresponsibility and poor planning. Dianne would not have cut it around my mom.

Sonia's right about Dianne's ethical and legal failures. We know that pragmatism has kept her supporters behind her. We wonder too how egregious her blunders have to be to trump self-interest.

Ginsu note: Wait, there's more. Diane Patrick, Deval's wife and campaign buddy, was there, as was Andrea Silbert. Several unopposed legislators showed as well. A future post will dish some of the other candidates and reveal which of the many had the good sense to dine at Doyle's afterward, as we did.

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1 comment:

Cos said...

In anticipation of this all-write-in election, I wrote down a couple of stories from an all-write-in election in Boston that I was involved in a couple of years ago...

Ambiguous Write-In Votes: A Recount Story
A Spoiled Election in Massachusetts