Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rope-A-Dope in Second Suffolk

As much as Sonia Chang-Diaz takes it to her, State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson sits tight. The long-term Second Suffolk pol may not know how to file her taxes or update her web presence. She does seem to know that Chang-Diaz is going to have to rip the senate seat out of her hands.

Wilkerson nearly did lose it two years ago. She didn't bother to get the 300 signatures for a spot on the ballot. She ended up in a messy sticker campaign, which Chang-Diaz nearly won.

That's one lesson finally learned. This year, Wilkerson's campaign turned in 10 times the required sigs. "I wanted to dispel any notion as early in the process as possible of just how serious I am about this race," she said in atoning for last time.

This race fascinates me. We had Chang-Diaz on for a podcast at Left Ahead! two months ago. The rematch is well worth watching for several reasons.

Sonia Who?

Last time, 15-year Senator Wilkerson was deeply established while Chang-Diaz was a school teacher who seemed to appear suddenly. Sonia's strong challenge made her background and her positions much better known. Now she comes in as the smart, knock-out Latina who almost beat the old hand.

She (and her campaigners including her mom) still have to ring every bell in the geographically large district, but she is much more of a known quantity.

Rascal Queen

This race is clean as old v. new. Both candidates have strong liberal to progressive goals and platforms. Wilkerson has a big advantage in bringing in projects with money for the district for years. Chang-Diaz says you can get all that without the scandal and ethics problems.

The question comes whether voters who have paid attention want to wink at yet another unethical Boston pol, as long as she delivers the goods. This devil-we-know answer could well be yes. However, no one can say the choice wasn't plain.

Chang-Diaz is going to have to convince enough voters that she can also deliver. She doesn't have Wilkerson's record. Then again, she doesn't have Wilkerson's scandals on record either.

From my perspective, I just wonder how long it would take Chang-Diaz to mesh with the senate and administration to become effective in the way Wilkerson has.


Wilkerson knows she holds the seat firmly. Her non-campaign reflects that brightly.

Her website is from the past election. The only other presence so far is her stolid legislator page. Even on her campaign site, she plays it very safe — no issues, no apologies, no promises. She stresses only the cash she's brought in.

In contrast, Chang-Diaz has a fully formed site. She defines her positions, in no small part because she can't do the I-delivered-the-bacon list. She told us at Left Ahead! that she'd bring the battle of ideas to Wilkerson and continue to flesh out the issues with more and more specifics until the senator has to respond.

Affinity Program

Then there's the sometimes whispered and sometimes shouted racial issue. Wilkerson and her supporters are not shy about blowing the race trumpet. That's been a safe bet for years. Many precincts are heavy with black voters, who have come out in greater percentages for Wilkerson than other voters have for opponents. They likely accounted for the 767-vote difference last time.

As the Globe reported on this aspect:
"That's an extra dynamic for many people in the African-American community that this is our only African-American Senate seat," said political consultant Joyce Ferriabough. "It plays heavily when Roxbury and Mattapan come out super-deep for Dianne."
At the moment, Wilkerson is the only black state sentator here. If the opponent were a pasty-faced Brahmin, that might be a more powerful election argument than against a Latina in a city with a large and growing Hispanic population. Chang-Diaz has shown no inclination to stress her Hispanic and Asian roots or pit Latinos against blacks. Wilkerson may do that for her.

Both are liberals. Both are women. We'll find out this time how effectively Wilkerson can play her race again or whether she relies heavily on her delivery tab.

Even though she a generation apart from the stereotypical Boston pols, Wilkerson shares many of their traits. It may be that she can still pull the wink, wink, I may be shady, but I'm one of you act. We've seen that here for many decades from others of different cultures and races. It has often worked.

Chang-Diaz portrays herself as a stronger populist and a reformer. There's bit of subtlety to the contest, but it's a test for the voters.

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