Seven percent of District 7’s registered voters turned out on Tuesday to narrow the field of candidates vying to succeed former City Councillor Chuck Turner to two: Tito Jackson, former aide to Gov. Deval Patrick, and Cornell Mills, a onetime civilian homicide investigator and son of former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson.
Jackson easily slid into first place with 67 percent of the tally, or 1,943 votes, according to unofficial results released by the city’s elections department. Mills squeaked into second place with 271 votes, just ahead of the 258 received by former City Hall aide Danielle Renee Williams.
Perennial candidate Althea Garrison, a former state representative, grabbed 150 votes and Natalie Carithers, who worked for former state Rep. Willie Mae Allen, was the choice on 96 ballots.
State Rep. Russell Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat who is staying neutral in the race, said Jackson’s name recognition, garnered during his unsuccessful run in 2009 for City Council At-Large, was instrumental. “It makes a big difference that he had already run citywide.”
Holmes and other local political observers said it will be tough for Mills to top Jackson at the polls on March 15, the day of the final for the special election. Jackson has also been on a fundraising spree that will likely continue, while his opponents’ fundraising has ranged from anemic to non-existent.
“It’s always very difficult to get a voter to say they made a mistake,” Holmes said, saying Mills has a “hard hill to climb but nothing’s impossible.”
Young professionals packed Slades on Tremont St. as they waited for Jackson to appear after the polls had closed. City Council President Stephen Murphy, who endorsed Jackson in December, also dropped by to congratulate him.
“He’s got four more weeks to go, but it looks pretty positive right now,” Murphy said.
Ron Bell, a Patrick aide and Jackson relative who is helping the campaign, credited Jackson’s field organization with the win. “We had almost a 24-hour-a-day operation the last few days,” he said.
Mills, in a speech to two dozen supporters at the Breezeway, a Blue Hill Ave. restaurant, remained defiant. “We have 30 more days and right now the score is zero-zero,” he said. As his mother looked on, Mills said he reached out to the other campaigns to seek their support.
Wilkerson made a last-minute appeal to District 7 voters in a letter she sent pushing her son’s candidacy. In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Reporter Tuesday evening, Wilkerson said she had “stayed out of the race until now because I wanted to give Cornell the chance to make his own case, on his own, for why he believes he is worthy of your vote.”
Last month, Wilkerson was sentenced to a prison term of three-and-a-half years after her 2010 conviction on bribery and extortion charges in a case that was related to Turner’s corruption case. She is due to report to federal prison next month, but both she and Turner are appealing their sentences.
In her endorsement of Mills, one of her two adult sons, Wilkerson said he would continue the legacy of Turner and past District 7 seat holders.
“He’ll compromise where possible and fight when necessary. I know you will agree we need a fighter to replace the fighter,” she wrote. “Right after I and Chuck were set upon, Cornell came to me and said he wanted to change his last name to Wilkerson so everyone would know he’s my son. I told him that I was humbled by his gesture but it wasn’t necessary. That says a lot about his character. Besides, he couldn’t deny me if he wanted to because he looks just like me. He’s been preparing for this for a long time and he’s ready. I ask that you give him your vote on February 15.”
Wilkerson told the Reporter she had not slept for the last two days because she had been working on her son’s campaign. “This is as much as a professional pleasure to watch as it is a personal pleasure,” she said. “I’m happy. I’m proud.”
Williams also received support from former lawmakers. Bill Owens, once a state senator, and former state Rep. Shirley Owens-Hicks supported her, according to Holmes.
Jackson has received the biggest share of endorsements, picking up the support of over a dozen unions, including the health care workers’ union SEIU 1199, which has more than 700 members in District 7.