Chang-Díaz wins Senate primary

September 26, 2008
By


Gazette Photo by John SwanThe state Senate campaigns of Sonia Chang-Diaz and Dianne Wilkerson staked their claims during the Sept. 16 primary election at the Curtis Hall polling place on South Street.

Wilkerson calls for recount, vows write-in effort

Sonia Chang-Díaz apparently defeated Dianne Wilkerson in the Sept. 16 Democratic primary election, toppling the eight-term incumbent from the local 2nd Suffolk District state Senate seat. But the margin of victory was so close—228 votes, or less than 1.3 percent—that Wilkerson this week called for a partial recount of the vote.

If that doesn’t work, Wilkerson announced, she will run as a write-in candidate in the Nov. 4 final election.

The recount results were still pending as the Gazette went to press and must be announced by Monday. See JamaicaPlainGazette.com for updates.

“I’m so thankful and I’m so appreciative to voters of the district,” Chang-Díaz, a Jamaica Plain resident, said in a Gazette interview immediately after the election. “Senator Wilkerson made a very gracious concession call to congratulate me,” she added, though it turns out Wilkerson was not so ready to concede after all.

Wilkerson did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.

Wilkerson has become vulnerable to a political challenge because of her long history of legal troubles, including a recent $10,000 fine for campaign finance violations. But on Election Night, she suggested other reasons for her apparent loss, including the relocation of some Roxbury-area voting places.

Wilkerson requested a recount in five wards in Roxbury and Dorchester—her home area and usual core of support. Chang-Díaz responded by also requesting a recount in JP’s Ward 19 (Pondside/Jamaica Hills), one of her core support areas and one of the city’s highest-turnout voter areas.

A write-in campaign is often a long shot, but Wilkerson won that way two years ago. In 2006, Wilkerson beat Chang-Díaz in a primary race where all of the candidates were write-ins. In that race, Wilkerson benefited from unusually high turnout in Egleston Square, Roxbury and Dorchester sparked by an exciting governor’s race on the same ballot. It is likely that turnout will again be unusually high in those areas this fall, with the presidential election also on the ballot.

Unofficial election results before the recount showed that Chang-Díaz won JP with about 63 percent of the local vote. That is virtually the same percentage of the local vote Chang-Díaz earned during a previous, unsuccessful run against Wilkerson in 2006.

Whoever won the Senate primary will next face Socialist Workers Party candidate William Leonard in the Nov. 4 final election. A write-in candidate’s name would not appear on the ballot.

Turnout high

JP can once again boast of high voter turnout in the primary election. JP turnout was over 21 percent, while the citywide average was just under 14 percent. In Ward 19, about 27 percent of voters went to the polls, with some precincts as high as 34 percent.

The teenager-led “Vote for Me!” campaign can take some credit for that high turnout. The voter information and registration drive focused on three Hyde/Jackson Square precincts that showed relatively strong turnout.

“Vote for Me!” youths have knocked on doors, set up information tables and worked miniature phone banks in their non-partisan voter turnout campaign. In that area, 22 percent of active voters turned out—just above the citywide average active-voter turnout of 20 percent—in a significant victory for the traditionally low-turnout area. (Regular official voter turnout figures are always artificially low because people who cannot vote due to moving, death or other factors remain on the voter rolls for some time.)

In sheer numbers, those precincts had 711 voters go to the polls. By comparison, 780 voters turned out in 2006, when the area had record-high turnout with the popular Deval Patrick running for governor.

“Vote for Me!” youths registered 134 new voters and contacted more than 1,900 residents about the election. Their efforts will continue through the Nov. 4 final election.

Melissa Ayvar, one of the “Vote for Me!” youth organizers, told the Gazette that unregistered citizens had a common excuse: “They didn’t have the time” to register. She said such people were usually quick to sign up when “Vote for Me!” youths made it easy by providing registration forms and offering to do the mailing.

The youths are basically doing what successful candidates do, from door-knocking to the use of sophisticated voter-analysis software. They also have an experienced advisor—Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF) organizer Mark Pedulla. In 2005, Pedulla was the campaign manager for Gibran Rivera, who ran against local City Councilor John Tobin and won the JP vote, though Tobin won district-wide.

Asked whether the “Vote for Me!” work gives her any inspiration to make her own run for office someday, Ayvar said, “Actually, it does. We know how to go out and mobilize. It makes it a little more comfortable to think we can go out there and do it.”

For now, the youth organizers are too young to vote or run for office. The “Vote for Me!” slogan is intended as a reminder to adults that their democratic decisions affect the lives of the city’s kids.

The program is run by the Coalition to Educate, Mobilize and Vote, a joint effort by the HSTF and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation. For more information, call 524-8303 ext. 314.

Other races

In races where an outcome is certain, US Sen. John Kerry defeated challenger Ed O’Reilly. Incumbent state Rep. Willie Mae Allen, who represents the Woobourne area, defeated challenger Kathy Gabriel.

Local Governor’s Council incumbents Chris Iannella and Kelly Timilty also won their races, though Timilty is in hot water with Patrick for putting his endorsement and signature on her campaign literature without his permission.

Wilkerson’s campaign made a similar, if smaller, miscue by listing Tobin as an endorser on her campaign web site. Tobin, who did not endorse any candidate in the race, told the Gazette his name was removed after his campaign committee contacted Wilkerson’s staff. “I’m going to chalk that up to a mistake,” he said.

Other major elected officials in the neighborhood did not have primary election opponents. They include US Rep. Mike Capuano and state Reps. Liz Malia and Jeffrey Sánchez.