Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Idealism Trumps in Second Suffolk

It was nudge the rascal out yesterday. The one-plus percent victory by Sonia Chang-Díaz over state Senator Dianne Wilkerson might well have been 40%. Shielded with eight terms of incumbency and voter memories of pork, Wilkerson still couldn't protect herself.

Early returns had reformer Chang-Díaz up 58% to 42%, but with 100% of precincts in, Second Suffolk results were 9, 051 to 8,823 — a Sonia-trim win by 228 votes.

In pretty pathetic, but typical Wilkerson, style, the defeated incumbent immediately attributed the loss to nine polling places that had changed since the last election. She seems to have forgotten that she had vehicles at each to truck voters to the new spots. (Amusingly, she also blamed a single activist Chang-Díaz donor, Barbara Lee, according to PolitickerMA. Personal responsibility be damned again!)

She lost because she exceeded what seemed impossible to exceed. Wilkerson managed to overplay Bostonians' love of rascals. She was involved in too much financial misdealing too many times over too many years.

Even as a true Queen of Earmarks in a legislature that lives by bringing home bacon for voters, she seems incapable or unwilling to behave.

Wilkerson managed to overplay Bostonians' love of rascals.

Chang-Díaz has some therapy to perform, particularly in Roxbury. Assuming an almost certain victory in six weeks over Socialist Workers candidate William T. Leonard, she faces uneasy black voters. In news articles and radio reports, it was apparently not hard to find black voters who said they now had no one to represent them. Chang-Díaz first needs to show up as she did during the campaign. Then longer term, the voters need to see that you don't have to be black to share the same concerns and goals. That it-takes-time part won't be hard for Chang-Díaz.

The Wilkerson loss must be tough in the Roxbury/Mattapan areas she sees as her base. In various elections, they went 90% or more for her. Many said she delivered for them and that they identified for her as the only black and only black woman in the Sentate. While Chang-Díaz accurately identifies herself as of color, the identity with her is not yet strong as it was with Wilkerson.

At what turned out to be her victory party at JP's Alchemist last night, Chang-Díaz remained the highly competent and terrifically believable idealist. We haven't seen one of those win anything in far too long. It was a welcome contrast to the candidates' forum a few weeks before at Boston English. There, incumbents Wilkerson and beloved Rep. Willie Mae Allen fell back on the unfortunate perceived political wisdom several times. They described pork-barrel politics as just the way the system works. Moreover, Wilkerson said she'd try her best not to violate campaign-finance laws yet again, but wouldn't go any farther. In Allen's race, she romped over her indecisive and positionally vague opponent, Kathy Gabriel.

Wilkerson has overdrawn her account of unthinking acceptance and forgiveness.

There are many reasons I write about politics rather than do them. I certainly would have behaved differently had I been either senatorial candidate. For example:
  • Had I been Wilkerson, I would have apologized early and clearly for crimes rather than continually feigning "accounting errors."
  • Over my nearly 16 years in office, I would have researched and developed as key sponsor a lot more bills.
  • I also would have worked in both houses to build coalitions to pass key legislation rather than playing the standard, low-risk game of waiting until the stars align to get bills passed.
  • For legislation in general, I would have put my neck out for more solo bills under my name that set up programs and got funding on principle, rather than tucking pork for projects in big funding bills, where they were just swept along.
  • As Chang-Díaz campaigning, I would not have been so prissy gentle about calling Wilkerson on her ethics and legal violations this time. In her public statements and appearances, Chang-Díaz made the contrast plain only to the minority of voters who really paid attention to detail.
  • I would have asked repeatedly why CORI reform and other legislation so key to Second Suffolk have languished for years, while Wilkerson dismissively says the fault is in the House's not moving on it. Isn't it a leader's job to create the coalition to make these laws?
Initially Wilkerson apparently doesn't intend to go through yet another tedious recount, as occured two years ago. Nor does she intend to run as an independent. She's so volatile that she wouldn't amaze anyone if she tried either, although there'd be small likelihood of success with either. Wilkerson has overdrawn her account of unthinking acceptance and forgiveness.

Also: The Chang-Díaz victory do and other progressives' results.

Follow-Up: Over at BMG, howardjp has a great breakdown of the vote by ward/precinct.

Follow-Up 2: PolitickerMA has breaking news on Wilkerson's current and just announced campaign-finance problems. It seems she has violated her July 28th plea agreement with the AG two ways — missing a fine payment and not providing an compliance memorandum.

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