Wilkerson write-in try awkward for Dems

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Oct. 1, 2008

As state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson cranks up her political apparatus for a write-in campaign to keep the Second Suffolk District seat she's held for 15 years, her colleagues on Beacon Hill, in City Hall and among the Dorchester delegation are largely staying on the sidelines.

With a requested recount lost, Wilkerson's plan to wage a sticker campaign in the general election places her Democratic colleagues, several of whom endorsed her in the primary, and those who have worked with her during her years in office in an awkward position. And because of the move, Democratic nominee Sonia Chang-Diaz faces a three-way race between her, Wilkerson and Socialist Workers Party candidate William Theodore Leonard.

On Saturday, city election officials supervised a day-long recount, consisting of 8,000 ballots in four of Boston's wards. The results showed that Wilkerson lost by 213 votes, down from the initial figure of 228 votes on Sept. 16, the primary election day. Last week, Wilkerson told supporters at a Grove Hall rally that she intended to run a sticker candidacy on Nov. 4 in an effort to defeat Chang-Diaz.

State Sen. Jack Hart said he will not be picking a side in the race and is busy with the election between him and former state Rep. Althea Garrison, who is running against him as an independent.

"I understand what Dianne is doing," said state Sen. Jack Hart. "I have my own race."

If he were in her position, given the high turnout expected for the presidential election, "I might choose to run on stickers," Hart added.

State Rep. Marty Walsh, who backed Wilkerson in the primary, said on Tuesday he had not yet spoken with Wilkerson or Chang-Diaz and had yet to make up his mind on whom to support. "It's her right to do so if she chooses," he said.

Walsh compared the situation to the presidential primary race between U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.). "It's a little different, but you believe in your candidate and support your candidate," which leads to "mixed allegiances" among Democrats, he said.

Walsh said he considers Wilkerson a friend and said of Chang-Diaz, "I don't know her, but she won the nomination."

Like Walsh, state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, who endorsed Wilkerson in the primary, said she hadn't made up her mind either, but is leaning toward staying neutral.

City Councillor at-Large Sam Yoon, a Dorchester Democrat and a member of the Democratic State Committee, said he won't be endorsing either candidate, deeming it "inappropriate" to do so. He had endorsed Wilkerson in the primary because she has a "proven record" of being effective in the district, he said.

"We have a process that allows for a sticker campaign and she has every right to do that," he said.

State Reps. Marie St. Fleur and Willie Mae Allen - whose House seats intersect with the Second Suffolk Senate seat - did not respond to requests for comment.

Mayor Thomas Menino, whose political network was squarely behind Wilkerson in the primary, is also staying out of the fight. Menino says he's focusing instead of defeating a ballot question aimed at eliminating the state income tax and electing Obama president.

State Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said she supports Chang-Diaz.

"I have a Democratic nominee," said Murray (D-Plymouth), referring to Chang-Diaz, who was an aide to former state Sen. Cheryl Jacques and is a former public school teacher. At a June fundraiser for Wilkerson, Murray told the crowd "there is nobody else I want in that seat," according to the New England Blade newspaper.

Coming out of a leadership meeting on Monday with Murray and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, Gov. Deval Patrick declined to comment to reporters on Wilkerson's write-in campaign. Patrick supported Wilkerson during her primary rematch with Chang-Diaz, recording an auto-call for her and has reportedly said he would support the Democratic nominee.

After the recount on Saturday at City Hall, Massachusetts Democratic Party chair John Walsh said in a statement that the party promises to help Chang-Diaz win in November's general election.

"She will now receive all the benefits from the party that every primary winner is entitled to," he said. The statement is now prominently displayed on Chang-Diaz's campaign Web site.

Asked by reporters whether Wilkerson should step aside, Chang-Diaz said, "That's a question for pundits, that's a question for Sen. Wilkerson. My focus is on talking to voters."

Speaking with reporters after the recount, Boyce Slayman, Wilkerson's campaign manager, defended the decision to run a write-in campaign as a Democrat, pointing to the late Joe Moakley running as an independent against U.S. Congresswoman Louise Day Hicks in 1972. Moakley, who was a Democrat both before and after that contest, bested Hicks in a heavy presidential year turn-out, something that Wilkerson hopes to replicate.

"[Moakley] was exercising his options," Slayman said.

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