Sonia Chang-Diaz, who prevailed in her
primary challenge of incumbent State Senator Dianne
Wilkerson on Tuesday, is greeted at her Jamaica
Plain victory party by supporter and mentor Barbara
Lee. Photo by Bijoyeta Das
By Gintautas Dumcius and Bijoyeta Das
By a narrow margin, voters in the Second Suffolk
district on Tuesday handed the seat of incumbent
state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson to her challenger,
Sonia Chang-Diaz, who is now heavily favored to win
the Senate seat in November.
According to unofficial results, Chang-Diaz won
by some 228 votes out of 17,900 cast across the
73-precinct senatorial district, which includes
parts of Dorchester and Mattapan, Roxbury, the
South End, Back Bay, Jamaica Plain, and
"This was a hard fought campaign on both sides,"
a jubilant Sonia Change-Diaz said during her
victory celebration at The Alchemist, a restaurant
in Jamaica Plain. "We asked voters to look beyond
endorsements, institutional support and make up
their own minds, and they did."
Chang-Diaz's campaign manager, Deborah Shah,
said that the campaign was never over-confident,
despite their own internal polls that showed
Chang-Diaz with a commanding lead just two weeks
"The other side was well-staffed, well-armed, so
were we. We stuck to our plans and at the end
At Wilkerson's moribund gathering inside a
Massachusetts Avenue waffle and chicken restaurant,
some volunteers grumbled that the incumbent was
hurt by the relocation of ten polling places within
the district. The shift, some argued,
disproportionately impacted Wilkerson's base in
Roxbury and Dorchester and left some voters
Wilkerson, however, seemed more resigned to the
hard reality of the night's returns than poised to
mount a fight.
"This is how the process works," a
relaxed-looking Wilkerson told her a 100-strong
crowd of supporters at the Hen House Wings and
Waffles. "We could not keep up with the reality of
those nine changed precincts," she said, standing
on a milk carton, as supporters switched off the
flat-screen televisions tuned to FOX25 bearing the
margin: 51 to 49 percent.
"I'm going to finish what I started by the end
of the year, to the extent I can do that," she
said, referring to bills on the controversial
practice of transliterating ballots into Vietnamese
and Chinese characters and other bills that she
said were "sitting" in the House.
Wilkerson said she had not seen the final
numbers and batted back questions from reporters on
a recount or whether she would try to run as an
independent on the November ballot.
"I don't know if there's even a legal basis for
that," she said. "It's one idea, but it's not
"I'm not looking to do a repeat of 2006," she
said, referring to the first match-up she had with
Chang-Diaz. In that election, Chang-Diaz came close
to knocking out Wilkerson, who had failed to gather
enough signatures to get on the ballot.
"After the last time they ran, you know it was
going to be difficult" for Wilkerson, said Paul
Watanabe, a political science professor at
Wilkerson supporters, who milled around the
restaurant in a malaise while waiting for Wilkerson
to arrive, pointed to the moving of polling places
as a determining factor.
"I think the changing of the polling places
really had some impact," said Sarah Ann Shaw, a
Wilkerson campaign volunteer. "Some people went to
the old polling places."
Councillor at-Large John Connolly, who attended
Wilkerson's post-primary party, said he needed a
closer look at the numbers, but said the November
presidential election could have been a factor,
despite the "cranked up" organization that
"There's always an underlying fear that people
are focused on November and this election was off
the radar," Connolly said.
Wilkerson has held the Second Suffolk district
seat, which includes much of Ward 14 in Dorchester
and Mattapan, since 1993. She is the Senate chair
of the State Administration and Regulatory
Chang-Diaz has worked at the Massachusetts
Budget and Policy Center and as an aide to former
state Sen. Cheryl Jacques. The daughter of an
astronaut, she has also worked as a public school
A series of several debates
held over the summer highlighted how little
difference there was between them on policy. Both
come down on the left or progressive side of most
issues. Chang-Diaz based her candidacy mainly on a
theme of ethical and responsible leadership, noting
Wilkerson's campaign finance problems, which were
underscored by an August announcement of a
settlement between Wilkerson and the state attorney
general's office. The agreement has Wilkerson
paying $10,000 for violating multiple campaign
Still, Wilkerson had the endorsements of Gov.
Deval Patrick, who made auto-calls on her behalf to
20,000 numbers, and Mayor Thomas Menino, whose
powerful political machine was active for Wilkerson
on the ground in recent weeks.
Chang-Diaz racked up her own endorsements,
including ones from the Boston Globe, the Boston
Herald, and most surprisingly, Bay Windows, the
region's largest gay and lesbian newspaper. In
their endorsement of Chang-Diaz, the newspaper
broke with several GLBT political groups who had
backed Wilkerson, citing her record on gay rights,
including her pushing for the repeal of the 1913
law employed to prevent out-of-state gay couples
Allies said that Wilkerson will likely have
little trouble landing on her feet.
"She is obviously very, very talented," said
Councillor Charles Yancey. "If anything, this may
lift a burden from her shoulders so she can pursue
Chang-Diaz's admirers expect big things from the
woman who will be Senator.
"She is an incredibly hard worker, dedicated to
public service and is willing to go the extra
mile," said Barbara Lee, founder of a foundation
that supports female candidates and one of
Chang-Diaz's mentors. "I told her she is a
Chang-Diaz will face one opponent - William
Theodore Leonard, representing the Socialist
Workers party - in the November 4th final
Incumbent state representatives Marie St. Fleur and
Willie Mae Allen each trounced their opponents in
Tuesday's primary election and will run un-opposed
in November's final. St. Fleur bested Roy Owens,
1,443 to 710. Willie Mae Allen defeated Faustina K.
Gabriel, 1,951 to 603.
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