Sticker race continues as Wilkerson
stands accused
'Racially divisive' election seen ahead
October 29, 2008

By Gintautas Dumcius
Reporter Correspondent

Dianne Wilkerson's long-shot crusade to save her political career continues this week, despite the bombshell arrest that has turned Boston's political world on its head. A defiant Wilkerson pledged to "stay the course" with plans to mount a write-in candidacy in next Tuesday's general election and accused US Attorney Michael Sullivan of seeking to "imperil [her] re-election campaign."

In a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon, Wilkerson asked supporters to keep an open mind about the charges against her and to continue to support her sticker candidacy.

"Not only does this represent the biggest challenge in my personal and political life, but it will test to the limit the notion of innocent until proven guilty,"Wilkerson said in a written statement.

She went on to assail Sullivan for what she termed a "political calculus" that she "seriously underestimated."

"In one fell swoop, and even before an indictment has been returned, he's sought to imperil my re-election campaign, and has set much of the state's Democratic Leadership back on its heels," Wilkerson stated.

Her decision to press forward with the sticker race sets the stage for a dramatic, racially-charged and contentious showdown with the Democratic nominee Sonia Chang-Diaz.

In the hours immediately preceding Wilkerson's arrest, Wilkerson called September's Democratic primary, which she lost to Chang-Diaz, the "most racially divisive process I've ever seen."

Wilkerson supporters, speaking at a Prince Hall rally six days after the Sept. 16 primary, had argued that in order to maintain minority representation in the district - which includes neighborhoods ranging from Roxbury to Beacon Hill, along with parts of Dorchester and Mattapan -Wilkerson must be sent back to the State House. The Reporter at the time noted that at least one Wilkerson supporter contended that Chang-Diaz is "not a person of color."

Chang-Diaz is of white, Latino and Asian heritage. Wilkerson is the state Senate's first and only black member. Wilkerson, in an interview on WBUR 90.9 FM last Friday, backed away from the statements made by supporters.

But after speaking at a Monday night forum at Roxbury Community College, Wilkerson accused the Chang-Diaz camp of racial divisiveness, saying the candidate sent out literature with her grandparents on it and saying "vote for the Chinese girl."

"That's exactly what happened in the primary," Wilkerson told the Reporter.

Wilkerson also accused the Chang-Diaz campaign of calling Latino-based agency heads and saying, 'you have to vote for me because I'm Latino."

"That's exactly what she did," Wilkerson said. Wilkerson did not mention any specific names or provide any evidence for the charges.

Chang-Diaz, who was also at the forum, which focused on the slowing economy and recent state budget cuts, immediately denied the charges.

"I often err to the opposite," Chang-Diaz said. "It's totally unnecessary. It's not what the voters care about."

Chang-Diaz acknowledged that for many Latino voters, having someone to talk to about their concerns who speaks in their native tongue has "made a difference," but added that she would never ask for anyone to vote for her because of her race.

"It's the kind of politics that doesn't serve the community," she said.

Wilkerson said the media had overlooked the alleged incidents. "The fact that it happened, everybody was well-aware that it happened, and not a single press report was ever made, one time," she said. "And then after the primary, you know, if you believe… follow just the press, you have to conclude that the only racist people in the city of Boston are black people. I mean, that's why I said this is so bizarre to me. I think it has no place in a race at all. Never did."

"I would never ever be anywhere saying, 'You should vote for me because I'm African-American.' That's not how I introduce myself. Never have," she added.

Referring to her allegations against Chang-Diaz, Wilkerson said the campaign was "past that."

"But it was part of the reason why I think people were so jaundiced," she said. "Because not once ever in the process leading up to a primary was there an engagement on the issues. Never."

Wilkerson and Chang-Diaz, joined by Socialist Workers Party candidate William Leonard and elected officials from other areas close to Roxbury, faced off for what could be the final time before Election Day.

Tensions between her campaign and the Chang-Diaz camp were evident at the beginning of the Roxbury Community College forum.

Spotting a pair of cameras in the audience, Wilkerson demanded to know with whom they were with. One was for Boston University TV and the other was held by a Chang-Diaz volunteer.

"I'm not sure why she's taping us if she's not here," Wilkerson said, referring to Chang-Diaz, who arrived a half-hour late because of a scheduling conflict.

Wilkerson's comment led to a round of applause from the friendly crowd, followed by shouts of "Shut it off!" The volunteer then turned the camera off as moderators of the forum did not move. The Boston University TV camera remained on.

"I don't really care if you leave it on or off," Wilkerson said, before noting the camera still had a light on. The volunteer then made a show of putting on a lens cap and resumed filming when Chang-Diaz appeared.

Asked about the roughly $900 million in cuts that Patrick had made to the state's $28.2 billion budget to staunch the effects of a $1.4 billion deficit, Wilkerson raised the possibility of taxing alcohol. Package stores currently have an exemption.

Wilkerson also hit Patrick for cutting half the budget of Casa Esperanza, which helps with substance abuse treatment, while cutting only $100,000 from Sail Boston, an annual five-day festival with a $1.1 million budget.

Chang-Diaz said she supported closing corporate tax loopholes as a way to raise revenue.

Leonard said he was opposed to taxes on cigarettes, alcohol and gambling. "Taxing cigarettes and alcohol, these are taxes on working people," he said.

He also advocated for a shorter work week, calling for "30 hours with 40 hours pay."

Asked about the $700 billion bailout that Congress recently passed Leonard said the money will go straight to banks and bondholders.

"That has nothing to do with you and me," he said. "All they want is more money now."

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