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The state of the District 7 race

The preliminary special election to replace former City Councillor Chuck Turner draws near, and that means things are heating up. (Though nobody’s falsely called anybody a crack addict yet.)

Cornell Mills, one of the seven candidates running for the District 7 seat, took a shot at the odds-on favorite, Tito Jackson, in this Twitter post on Wednesday, echoing a similar push from surrogates: “70% of my donations from [District 7] residents. Not 15%. My events all held in the District. That's real action, not just talk.”

In an email, a spokesman for Jackson’s campaign shot back: "We are not interested in what the Cornell Mills campaign has to say. We are focused on talking to as many voters about Tito and his vision for the community."

More ground is covered in this week’s piece on the contest, which looks at the state of the race. (Some of what was left on the cutting room floor is included in this blog post).

A number of local political observers are viewing Mills, a former homicide investigator and the son of disgraced former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, as the likely runner-up on Tuesday and the one who will face Jackson in the final special election on March 15.

Turner’s shadow looms large. The candidates are often asked by residents how they would continue his legacy and dedication to the district now that he’s been booted from office and facing three years in jail for taking a $1,000 bribe and lying to the FBI about it.

So we asked Mills and Jackson what was the top thing they disagreed with Turner about.

“I think that some of the fights that Chuck took up distracted from the passion that he gave to some of the more local issues,” Mills said. “Secondly, I think, some of the methods he chose to fight allowed others to dismiss him and allowed others to isolate him from the way City Hall is run.”

“My background is in economic development,” Jackson, who served as an aide to Gov. Deval Patrick on the campaign trail and in the governor’s economic development secretariat, said when asked the same question. “I totally agree with advocacy, but I think I would be partnering the advocacy with access. I will partner and leverage all of the relationships on a city, state and federal level.”

Mills also opened up about his mother, who is appealing her jail sentence of 3.5 years. Her corruption case was tied to Turner’s, though she pleaded guilty last year while Turner unsuccessfully took his fight to trial.

“This is the most difficult time we’ve had in our lives as a family,” Mills said. “We’ve had to call on faith, we’ve spent a lot of time praying.”

Turning to the corruption charges, Mills said, “I think a large part of this case was just about scaring people from the process. Because what happens -- anyone who advocates for the poor, for the underserved, for the marginalized, there are a lot of powers that don’t want to see a level playing field. It’s a reality in life. Obviously this is the city we live in, that doesn’t like to address race, we don’t even like to use the word ‘race’ or ‘racism,’ but it’s something we’ll have to deal with as part of our culture.”

Mills said Wilkerson, who was elected to the state Senate in 1992 and left in 2008 after she was indicted and lost a Democratic primary, had stayed in office too long. She had become too much of a target, and did not spend time with her grandchildren, he said.

Prosecutors have said race had nothing to do with race and that the evidence, which included photos of Wilkerson allegedly stuffing cash into her shirt, speaks for itself. The federal judge who oversaw the Wilkerson and Turner cases, Douglas Woodlock, has said he has found no evidence of wrongdoing on the prosecutors’ parts.

Jackson, a Grove Hall native, also spoke about his family. His father is the late Herbert Jackson, a labor activist who was friends with Turner. Turner is supporting Jackson’s bid to replace him, which he affirmed outside the courthouse after he was sentenced in late January.

“They opened doors so I could sit down at this table right now,” Jackson said, referring to his father and Turner's history of activism.

He added, of his mother and father: “My worldview is based on folks who didn’t only think about taking care of them and theirs, it was based on how do we come up, do we build as a community. And if our community is not doing well, then I’m not doing well.”