Wilkerson wins

October 6, 2006
By

JOHN RUCH

Diaz comes out swinging
Incumbent Dianne Wilkerson finally won the Democratic nomination for the 2nd Suffolk District state Senate seat following the most bizarre local election in at least 20 years. But she did it while losing the Jamaica Plain vote to second-place finisher Sonia Chang-Díaz.

Voters joined in with a high turnout on the sunny Election Day. The JP part of the Ward 19 area boasted the city’s highest voter turnout, averaging 49 percent, compared to the citywide 34 percent turnout.

Wilkerson ran as a write-in candidate on Sept. 19, along with three challengers, after she failed to collect enough signatures to make the ballot. She was declared the winner with a 49 percent plurality only after thousands of accidentally uncounted ballots were counted, and then all the ballots were recounted.

Wilkerson will now face Republican Samiyah Diaz—who, confusingly, also ran as a write-in the Democratic primary—in the Nov. 7 final election. Wilkerson was not available for comment, according to her staff.

“Samiyah Diaz is the way we’ll have change,” Diaz said in a Gazette interview. “It’s just me and Wilkerson right now.”

The number of votes cast in the difficult write-in race was surprisingly high—almost 13,000 district-wide, and about 4,700 in JP.

Chang-Díaz won the JP part of the district with 62 percent of the vote, losing only two precincts to Wilkerson, whose base of support in Roxbury made her the overall winner. The result was reminiscent of last year’s Gibrán Rivera-John Tobin Boston City Council race where Rivera won JP but lost the race. It appears JP may be in a progressive, anti-incumbent mood, but has yet to beat the vote totals of other neighborhoods.

Last-minute challenger John Kelleher drew only about 400 votes and told the Gazette he’ll support Wilkerson. Diaz finished last. In JP, she drew more Democratic write-ins than normal votes on the Republican ballot.

Virtually the only issue in the race was Wilkerson’s history of legal problems, which worsened last week with a Boston Globe report that a court just ordered her to pay more than $13,000 in overdue fees to her former condo association after she reportedly repeatedly bounced checks. Wilkerson reportedly did not make a defense in court, but told the Globe she will dispute part of the judgment. The case is also being reviewed by a judicial ethics committee because of questions about why the ruling was delayed nearly three months, until just after the election.

Other major problems include her 1990s conviction for failure to file federal income taxes; an ongoing state lawsuit about allegedly misreported campaign finances and allegedly illegal campaign contributions; previous campaign finance problems; and a pending “review” of possible perjury charges in a criminal case by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, which did not respond to a Gazette request for an update on that matter.

Wilkerson has referred to the problems as “personal” or “personality” issues that shouldn’t be part of campaigns. Voters have re-elected her six times despite such problems, as her progressive politics and legislative victories seem to match the district’s priorities.

Chang-Díaz told the Gazette that her campaign sent the message that “ethics and accountability matter… I think there’s still a real readiness for change in the district.”

Chang-Díaz repeated a line from a campaign press release that she wishes Wilkerson “good luck” in representing the district for another term. Asked if that meant she’s supporting Wilkerson in the race, Chang-Díaz said, “It’s something I’ll have to consider.” She said it’s also too early to say whether she’ll run again for the Senate seat or other office.

Diaz—a South End law student who once campaigned for Wilkerson but now describes herself as disillusioned—is now taking up Chang-Díaz’s fight and has come out swinging.

“Voters are looking for the whole package,” she said when asked about Wilkerson’s description of legal problems as personal. “They’re looking for someone who is ethically minded. I think it’s disrespectful to voters when you say that. Of course we want someone who’s honest…and that’s what we deserve.”

Diaz said Wilkerson should resign from the seat and focus on cleaning up her personal issues. “We’re not going to be paying for her to resolve her problems, and that’s basically what we’ve been doing over and over again,” Diaz said.

Similar criticisms were voiced by Stephen Mally, a JP resident who has formed Democrats for Diaz in the hopes of ousting Wilkerson.

“More and more issues are coming out about Dianne’s character and her clear flaws in her public and private life,” said Mally, adding he previously considered running against Wilkerson himself out of outrage. “She continues to live her life differently than she legislates it.”

Like Chang-Díaz, Diaz’s main pitch is that she has similar politics to Wilkerson, but none of the legal problems. Diaz and Wilkerson are both supporters of abortion rights, opponents of the death penalty and proponents of gay rights and same-sex marriage. “On social issues, we’re definitely the same,” Diaz said.

But Diaz is a Republican, and there some political differences involved.

“If we look more on the fiscal prudence platform, you’ll see me as more of a Republican,” Diaz said. That includes supporting the delayed rollback of the state income tax from 5.3 to 5 percent.

Diaz also supports allowing more charter schools and supports the MCAS high school graduation test, though not as a sole, final standard. She also has a plan for easing permitting and reducing taxes for small businesses.

Mally is a professional fund-raiser and gay rights activist with experience working on Steve Grossman’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign. A lifelong Democrat, he acknowledged he voted for Republican Gov. Mitt Romney and now regrets it. Romney left many voters unhappy with what appears to have been a pretense he was more moderate than he actually is. But, Mally said, Diaz isn’t going to pull that kind of trick.

“Ms. Diaz is not a Rove Republican. She is not a Romney Republican,” said Mally, referring to controversial President Bush adviser Karl Rove.

Turnout, other races
JP’s voter turnout was about 38 percent, a few points higher than the citywide average. Four precincts in the Pondside/Jamaica Hills/Forest Hills Ward 19 area had the highest turnout in the city with 50 percent or more of voters hitting the polls. Elected officials are guaranteed to pay attention to that area.

Ward 11 (central/eastern JP) had turnout around 38 percent, and Ward 10 (Hyde Square) was around 26 percent. In general, the wealthier the neighborhood, the higher the turnout.

In the Democratic race for governor, JP voters agreed with those statewide who gave Deval Patrick a landslide win. Patrick took 77 percent of the JP vote.

Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, earned only 98 total votes in JP—far less than Patrick pulled in any given precinct.

JP resident Maura Hennigan won all of JP by a large majority that was a significant part of her win in the Suffolk County clerk of criminal courts race. She’s unopposed in the final election, but told the Gazette she thanks JP and hopes they’ll give her a “vote of confidence” at the ballot box anyway. She plans to present crime prevention programs in community meetings after she takes office.

JP resident John Bonifaz not only lost statewide to incumbent Secretery of State Bill Galvin, but he also did not win the JP vote.

Incumbent US Rep. Stephen Lynch beat progressive challenger Phil Dunkelbarger in all three of the JP precincts in the district. Dunkelbarger was popular among some JP residents—even winning endorsement from the Ward 19 Democratic Committee—but apparently few of them were voters in the district.

Local state Representatives Liz Malia and Jeffrey Sánchez won several thousand votes each despite running unopposed.