Chang-Diaz gets embrace of elected Dems at rally

Sonia Chang-Diaz, the newly-minted Democratic nominee for the state Senate's Second Suffolk seat, took a victory lap this week with some of the state's top Democrats as incumbent Sen. Dianne Wilkerson battled back against renewed allegations that she lied under oath at a 2005 court hearing.

Gov. Deval Patrick joined House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and other local lawmakers at the United South End Settlements on Massachusetts Avenue to rally support for Chang-Diaz. No Dorchester politicians made an appearance, though state Rep. Byron Rushing, a Boston Democrat, told the small crowd of Chang-Diaz campaign workers that Rep. Marie St. Fleur was unable to appear because of an ill friend.

"I'm a Democrat," St. Fleur (D-Boston), whose House district is included as part of Wilkerson's area, said last week. "That's why we have primaries."

St. Fleur did not endorse either candidate in the primary.

Attendees who showed up at the Tuesday morning rally to support Chang-Diaz included Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, state Reps. Marty Walz and Jeffrey Sanchez, and City Councillors Bill Linehan and John Tobin. Rushing jokingly called them "Sonia's elected posse."

Hubert "Hubie" Jones, Boston University's first African-American dean and a former acting president of Roxbury Community College, also appeared at the endorsement rally.

Wilkerson had the advantages of incumbency, Jones said. "And she squandered it."

Wilkerson is now waging a write-in campaign as a Democrat to keep the seat she has held for 15 years, after losing last month's Democratic primary to Chang-Diaz, a former public school teacher and State House aide, by 213 votes. Her campaign is counting on an organization fighting its second sticker effort, having won against Chang-Diaz and a third candidate in the 2006 state Senate primary, and the high turnout expected to come with the presidential election.

Wilkerson's decision has left some in the Dorchester delegation, and powerful politicians such as Mayor Thomas Menino, on the sidelines or undecided, stuck between supporting the party and back a senator they have had a longtime relationship with.

"She feels insulted," said Boyce Slayman, Wilkerson's campaign manager, while standing outside of the endorsement rally with about two dozen sign-holders. "The party's never held a rally for her or given her considerable support."

"Why a rally? What's the governor trying to say?" he added. "Dianne's been a stalwart, out-front person for the party."

Patrick, who made auto-calls for Wilkerson in the primary, immediately reacted to the sign-holders outside in his remarks. "I saw a sign just outside that said, 'This district is not for sale,'" Patrick said about one of the signs which referred to allegations from the Wilkerson camp that Cambridge philanthropist Barbara Lee poured money into Chang-Diaz's campaign. "And by the way, that sign is right, this district is not for sale. This nomination was earned," Patrick said.

The rally came days after the state Office of the Bar Counsel moved to disbar Wilkerson, accusing her of violating professional conduct rules by lying under oath at a hearing dealing with her nephew, Jermaine Berry.

She has been suspended from practicing law since 1999 because of a separate matter dealing with a conviction for tax evasion and a parole violation.

The Office of the Bar Counsel's move adds more legal woes for Wilkerson, who earlier this year settled with the state attorney general's office over a number of campaign finance violations.

Wilkerson called the move towards disbarment "politically motivated," while her attorney, Max Stern, said the evidence against her is "flimsy."

"No one has ever identified any motive for Senator Wilkerson to make up her testimony," Stern said in a statement. "Her testimony incriminated one nephew in the course of exculpating the other. Both of these young men were very dear to her. The only conceivable reason for her to come forward in those circumstances was to discharge what she saw as her moral and ethical duty - however painful - to right a wrong."

In a statement, Wilkerson noted that a hearing won't be scheduled until after the Nov. 4 general election.

The complaint was filed in 2006 by the Boston Police Patrolman's Association (BPPA), who have had a long and stormy relationship with the senator, on behalf of a pair of police investigators who were involved in the Berry case in 1994.

"The timing of it doesn't help the senator," said Rep. Marty Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat who said he would remain neutral in the general election.

"It ought to be a very interesting Election Day in the Second Suffolk," he said.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.