Chang-Diaz grades herself: A-minus

Chang-DiazChang-DiazAsked what grade she would give herself for her first term in the state Senate, Sonia Chang-Diaz smiled. “I’m a tough grader if you ask my old students,” the former Jamaica Plain teacher said. She paused. A-minus is her assessment. “We have worked hard in this office,” she said, adding that she was tempted to give herself a lesser grade. “Given the economic landscape I walked into, I think we made a lot of defensive wins,” she said, pointing to protection of local education aid, funds for emergency food assistance, and millions of dollars included in the state budget for youth violence prevention. In a recent sit-down in her State House office, Chang-Diaz also ticked off several wins in the “offense” department: a plan that the Senate passed to reform the state’s criminal offender record information (CORI) system that is still on the House side, and education reforms signed into law in January. The accomplishments, among others, have already been put to paper and distributed at caucus meetings within the Second Suffolk District, which includes Beacon Hill, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and a sliver of Dorchester. But she added that she also learned a lesson during a debate over a bill easing state access to federal stimulus dollars. After the bill went to a committee of House and Senate members for the hashing out of a final version, she should have kept up pressure for them to include her amendments. But the bill emerged without a few of them. “I only had to learn that lesson once,” Chang-Diaz said. Whether she will field any challengers this year remains an open question. To date, only one person has pulled nomination papers: Hassan Williams, who local observers say has unsuccessfully run for City Council. He has not yet formed a political committee. Nomination papers, with signatures, are due to local elections officials on April 27. Others have been approached and encouraged to run against her. Some had floated the name of Giovanna Negretti, the head of the Latino political group Oiste, as one possibility, though Negretti told the Reporter earlier this year that she believed Chang-Diaz was doing a “fine job” and said she was not interested in challenging her. Chang-Diaz won the seat in 2008, two months after beating out incumbent Dianne Wilkerson for the Democratic nomination and nearly a week after Wilkerson, who subsequently mounted a sticker campaign, was indicted on federal corruption charges. Wilkerson, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, had held the seat since 1993. Hanging in the senator’s office are photos from her 2008 campaign and from when she ran against Wilkerson in 2006: One is of the kick-off in 2006 – “that was a really hot day,” she recalls – and the other is a picture of campaign workers who stuck it out at the 2008 primary vote recount at City Hall. In another, she is standing with her sister at NASA, where her father was an astronaut; nearby is a photo of her with Barack Obama before he was elected president; and in the corner is a photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. in the Birmingham jail. While some privately grumble that they don’t see Chang-Diaz at some community meetings as they did Wilkerson, Sarah Ann Shaw, the city’s first African-American television reporter and a local political observer, said that when it comes to serving the needs of the district, it’s “frankly unfair to Sonia to compare her to Dianne because Dianne was in the seat for a long time and knew the ropes.” “She’s learning,” said Shaw, a member of the Democratic State Committee. “If you’re re-elected, that’s when you start coming into your stride.” Shaw said that Chang-Diaz has become “more visible at community meetings. I think I’m seeing her at more events and more meetings than I saw her in her first year.” But Shaw also said that Chang-Diaz should attempt to generate more publicity about her fight for education reform and funds for the recovery community. State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, who, like Chang-Diaz, is a member of the Dorchester delegation on Beacon Hill, said Chang-Diaz has “been out there in the neighborhood,” attending meetings in Mattapan. Both also sit on the Legislature’s Committee on Small Business and Workforce Development, which Forry chairs. Chang-Diaz also appears monthly on TOUCH 106.1 FM, on the second Tuesday of every month. She has been a staunch ally of Gov. Deval Patrick and a frequent partner of state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, who had initially pushed for an income tax increase instead of the sales tax increase that ended up passing. Patrick called Chang-Diaz a “wonderful partner” on CORI reform and said she is “present at every community meeting I go to in her district.” “She’s working hard,” he told the Reporter. But not everybody has been satisfied with her efforts on CORI. In a recently published op-ed piece, Jeff Ross, a local attorney who has run for public office in another Senate district and worked on Wilkerson’s campaign, said the CORI bill does not tackle allowing juvenile court judges to expunge records and young individuals to put minor infractions behind them. “The recent passage of CORI reform through the Senate should be particularly troublesome to communities of color where young people are disproportionately impacted by CORI issues,” he wrote. “The lone state senator who represents that constituency could not make the case, it seems, to reverse the adverse impact on current and future generations. We need to expect and demand more from our representative.”