In a meeting last week that was insulated from the lenses of TV cameras and newspaper reporters, former State Senator Dianne Wilkerson lashed out at several ministers affiliated with the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston and the Boston Ten-Point Coalition, essentially accusing them of conspiring to remove her from office.
According to several individuals who were among the 50 or more people at the Dec. 17 meeting in the Eliot Congregational Church of Roxbury, Wilkerson encouraged former constituents to come together to push for a list of her former "legislative priorities." She encouraged them to work with her successor, Sonia Chang-Diaz, to make that happen.
But she also pointed a finger at the Black Ministerial Alliance (BMA) and the Boston Ten-Point Coalition. She described them as usurpers of the community's right to pursue those legislative goals and accused certain ministers of collaborating with the FBI to bring about her downfall, according to several sources who heard her speak.
Wilkerson cited as proof of a conspiracy, the sources said, rumors of an impending FBI raid on her office that she said were circulated by a particular pastor from one of the organizations in February 2006, three months after her vote against a constitutional ban on gay marriage the previous November, a vote that many ministers opposed. No such raid took place in 2006.
In addition, several of those present said Wilkerson claimed that a particular pastor, unnamed by Reporter sources, pressured her to resign at a meeting at Charles Street A.M.E. Church on Oct. 31 with the threat that if she did not resign that day - with legions of the Boston press corps awaiting her announcement in the next room - the BMA would lose funding that was included in several line items in the state budget.
When contacted by the Reporter, confidants of Wilkerson offered a slightly different version of that statement, saying that five ministers who met with Sen. President Theresa Murray pressed for some legislative priorities from Wilkerson's list and neglected others.
"They had some type of deal set up between some ministers and certain people up at the State House," said Bob Marshall, a Wilkerson supporter who attended the Dec. 17 meeting and said he has listened to "many" conversations with Wilkerson on the topic. "The ministers had been promised something by someone at the State House. They had a timetable, and Dianne upset their timetable."
In a compromise, Wilkerson conceded her re-election bid that Friday afternoon (Oct. 31), and promised to announce her resignation as soon as was "possible."
Pastor Bruce Wall, a Dorchester minister who is not currently affiliated with either ministerial organization, also heard the charges leveled by Wilkerson last week.
"This kind of stuff creates distraction," said Wall, who was at the meeting to "gather information." "I have never seen such anger and rage as in that room. The perception was that the black pastors were selling the senator down the river for grant money."
"What?" responded Ten-Point Coalition director Rev. Jeffrey Brown when asked if any such funding threat was made. "That's a lie. Let me say this: Any allegations that the ministers were going to lose money is flat-out false. Who would even say something like that? That's just a lie or a figment of someone's wild imagination."
Rev. Gregory Groover, who ministers at the Charles Street A.M.E. and was also at the meeting, said he did not recall any statement of the kind being made. "There were some concerns that were expressed at [an internal] BMA meeting, that the allegations made against Wilkerson could sort of cloud the way for immediate resources that the community needed but that was never mentioned in the meeting with Wilkerson."
Brown was similarly incredulous with respect to the accusation that the ministers were involved in the FBI probe. "I can tell you unequivocally that no minister of the BMA, in particular the leadership, knew of any investigation that was going on by the FBI or any other Federal alphabet, the ATF or whatever, of Dianne Wilkerson. Anyone that would conjecture that is grasping at straws," said Brown. "And if the senator said that, it is a sad day."
Organizers of the assembly worked hard to keep Wilkerson's claims against the ministers out of the media. Amir "MC Spice" Shakir, a local radio personality and a public supporter of Senator-elect Sonia Chang-Diaz, was told the press was not allowed in the meeting. He was allowed to stay only when he said he wasn't there as a journalist.
A flier promoting the meeting listed the organizers as "Concerned Citizens of Roxbury" and carried headlines such as "Stop the assault on black leadership" and "What is the role of certain black ministers in this story?"
Calls to Wilkerson's cell phone seeking comment this week went unanswered.
Wilkerson and the BMA have had their disagreements in the past, particularly over the gay marriage issue. In 2006, Bishop Gilbert Thompson, leader of the Jubilee Christian Church on Blue Hill Avenue and president of the BMA, said Wilkerson was following "a radical sexual agenda that will destroy the family as it now exists," according to the Boston Phoenix. At the time, rumors circulated that the ministers were searching for a candidate to run against Wilkerson.
Nevertheless, Brown said, Wilkerson and the ministers frequently collaborated before she was charged with accepting $23,500 in bribes in exchange for legislative favors earlier this year.
"You had ministers who continued to support Wilkerson through all the ups and downs she's had," he said. "There wasn't any open animosity. We disagreed on the open marriage issue, but there wasn't any rancor there."
Others say there is a growing resentment against the powerful ministers in the community.
"I've been to at least three different community meetings where there was an impromptu discussion about the ministers and Dianne, or the ministers and the ballot question around decriminalizing marijuana," said Joyce Ferriabough-Bolling, a Roxbury political consultant. "Many were most upset by the actions the ministers took against Dianne before she had her day in court and wondered why the rush to publicly ask for her resignation before the election... calling it just plain wrong."
For their social programming, both the BMA and Ten-Point Coalition are regular recipients of money that flows through state government from federal block grants. How the funds are spent can be guided by legislation and influenced by legislators informally, but ultimately they are allocated by departments in the governor's administration. An example is the Department of Public Health's Prevention of Youth Violence grants, from which the BMA received $105,000 out of $1.6 million distributed by the state in 2007.
As an outcome of Wilkerson's allegations, Shakir is calling on the BMA and Ten-Point to hold a public meeting next Monday (Dec. 29) to explain their side of the story. Neither party has responded to the call as of yet.
"I believe that black clergy and civic leaders need to come together and I'm praying for peaceful resolve," said Rev. William Dickerson of Greater Love Tabernacle Church, who was also at the Dec. 17 session. "We must move forward toward healing because too much finger pointing is going on."
Reporter correspondent Gintautas Dumcius contributed to this report.