Wilkerson will run on stickers as a last resort

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Sep. 24, 2008

Stung by a 228-vote loss in the Democratic primary, state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson this week confirmed that if a recount effort fails, she will run a sticker campaign to retain her seat in the November 4th the general election.

Wilkerson lost to challenger Sonia Chang-Diaz in the September 16 primary, with Chang-Diaz receiving 50.5 percent, or 9,051 votes, to Wilkerson's 49.3 percent, or 8,823 votes. Both Wilkerson and Chang-Diaz have asked for votes in specific wards to be re-counted, a process that will take place at City Hall this Saturday.

If she falls short in the re-count, Wilkerson made it clear during a Tuesday evening with supporters at the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in Grove Hall that she would challenge Chang-Diaz with a sticker campaign.

"There will be more people at the polls on November fourth than at any time in our nation's history," said Wilkerson. "And I'm afraid what happened here is a harbinger of what could happen to Barack Obama around the country."

In the Democratic primary last week, Wilkerson finished behind second-time challenger Sonia Chang-Diaz by 228 votes. Even on election night, Wilkerson and her supporters said she missed out on votes in precincts she carried because some polling places had been relocated. Within the district, there were changes in polling places for 10precincts.

Wilkerson campaign spokesperson Jeff Ross said Monday there were also complaints about ballot scanners that failed to work and voter requests for provisional ballots that were turned down.

"The campaign" said Ross, "wanted to respond to voting irregularities and voter disenfranchisement and address the issues raised by the community."

"This ain't Lieberman," she said, referring to the U.S. senator, Joseph Lieberman, who ran as an independent in Connecticut after he was knocked out of the running in the Democratic primary in 2006. "I'm not an independent. I'm a Democrat. I'm ready."

Wilkerson's move to run would turn the race into a three-way contest between her, Chang-Diaz and William Theodore Leonard of the Socialist Workers Party for the Second Suffolk District seat. Wilkerson ran a sticker campaign in the 2006 Democratic primary, in her first face-off with Chang-Diaz and Republican candidate Samiyah Diaz when she failed to gather enough signatures to make the ballot.

In a statement on Tuesday, Chang-Diaz said, "Of course we take nothing for granted, and I look forward to continuing to meet with voters, listen to their concerns, talk together about the need for new leadership for our district, and respectfully ask for their vote in November."

Wilkerson's announcement was met with wild cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd of 200 supporters at Prince Hall. The event was billed as a "community meeting," where Wilkerson campaign aides took down names and sat at the front door with piles of unmarked absentee ballots.

Wilkerson, who has held the seat for about 15 years, disputed some of the results of the Tuesday primary and jabbed at the local media, who largely endorsed Chang-Diaz, for reporting that she lost Latino and Asian areas.

"Last Tuesday we won the Latino precincts," she said. "We won the Chinatown precinct."

The Second Suffolk seat covers Roxbury, the South End, Jamaica Plain, Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Mission Hill, and parts of Dorchester, Mattapan and Fenway.

The general election on Nov. 4 not only offers Wilkerson a do-over, but a shot at a larger voter turnout, since it's the same day as the presidential election between U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Wilkerson's comments came after a number of supporters took to the podium to rally the crowd with stirring speeches and racially-charged remarks.

Calling the primary a "skirmish," Rev. Miniard Culpepper thundered, "If they want a battle, they've got one coming."

He was followed by City Councillor Charles Turner, who said the Second Suffolk seat was "rooted in the politics of the black community."

"That seat that Dianne sits on was created by this community," Turner said.

Jean McGuire, executive director of the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, Inc. (METCO) compared the moving of several polling places with little notice in Wilkerson's strongest districts to alleged voter disenfranchisement in Florida and Ohio in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

"This is the first time in a long time we will not have a senator who is a person of color," McGuire said.

Wilkerson is the Senate's only black member. Chang-Diaz, a former Jamaica Plain schoolteacher and State House aide, is of white, Latin and Asian descent. Her father was the United States' first Latin-American astronaut.

Asked afterwards about Chang-Diaz's background, McGuire said, "There are white Hispanics and black Hispanics." She added: "She is not a person of color."

Chang-Diaz, reached for comment on Wednesday, rejected that characterization.

"I just don't understand what the confusion is here," responded Chang-Diaz, in a phone interview with the Reporter. "My family emigrated to this country from Costa Rica. My father is from Latin America. He came to this country with $70 in his pocket and he went on to be this country's first Latin-American astronaut."

"I find it disrespectful to tell someone that they are not what they say they are," said Caprice Taylor-Mendez, a Latina and director of Emerge Massachusetts, an organization that trains women for political office, but did not make an endorsement in this election. Taylor-Mendez added that her own ethnicity has been questioned by others in the past, on the grounds that she was "too educated," though she was born in Guatemala to a black and Latino father.

"We can choose the group that we identify with, the group that we can participate of their struggles," said Taylor-Mendez. "Starting to question what race or ethnicity she is dilutes the point."

Still, Giovanni Negretti, a leader in the Latino political community as head of the organization Oiste!, said that Chang-Diaz's connections to the Boston Latino community were thin.

"There's very little that I know about Sonia Chang-Diaz," said Negretti in a phone interview. "She's not on any of our Latino boards, she's not invested in any of our issues."

Oiste! endorsed Wilkerson and Negretti is a strong Wilkerson supporter.

Other Wilkerson supporters, who swarmed the senator after her speech, echoed the sentiment that returning her to office was an imperative for their constituency.

"It's our duty to push forward to maintain that seat," said Victoria Williams, chair of the Ward 12 Democratic Committee. "I think people are feeling the fire in the belly."

Wilkerson's campaign declined to say how much money the senator has left in her account. Wilkerson rushed a late payment of $1,100 to the state attorney general's office last week, after a fundraising spurt just before the primary. The $1,100 payment was part of an agreement between Wilkerson and Attorney General Martha Coakley over campaign finance violations dating back several years.

Earlier on Tuesday, Boston elections officials announced that they approved Wilkerson's recount request for Wards 8, 9 and 12, but did not certify enough signatures to trigger re-counts in Wards 10 and 11. Chang-Diaz requested a re-count in Ward 19, which covers Jamaica Plain and Roslindale, and her signatures from that ward were certified.

The recount is scheduled for Saturday at City Hall, in the Election Department's Room 241.

Chris Lovett and Pete Stidman contributed to this report.