Wilkerson rejects Senate call for her resignation

October 31, 2008
By

John Ruch

The state Senate unanimously called on local Sen. Dianne Wilkerson to resign on Oct. 30 following her arrest by the FBI on federal bribe-taking charges. But Wilkerson, via a campaign press release, declared the resignation request “unreasonable.”

“A decision to leave this district without representation, even for 60 days, is one that cannot and should not be made in a matter of hours,” Wilkerson said in the press release, promising she would still serve constituents, though her political power appears to be near zero now. “Rest assured I am committed to do what is in the best interest of the residents of this district.”

The Senate also stripped Wilkerson of her committee positions and referred her to the Senate ethics committee, the first step in a process which can expel her from office. It appears unlikely that the ethics committee will have time for any review before the Nov. 4 election, where Wilkerson is waging a write-in campaign against the Democratic nominee, Jamaica Plain resident Sonia Chang-Díaz, and Socialist Workers Party candidate William Leonard.

Wilkerson has represented the local 2nd Suffolk District for eight terms.

Wilkerson is accused of accepting $23,500 in bribes from undercover FBI agents and a cooperating witness in exchange for securing a liquor license and attempting to orchestrate a no-bidding sale of state land to developers. In written statements, Wilkerson has suggested that she is the victim of a political conspiracy, but has not explicitly declared her innocence.

The corruption charges made Wilkerson a national joke last week, as Jay Leno included her in his opening monologue on the Oct. 29 episode of “The Tonight Show.”

Displaying an FBI photo allegedly showing Wilkerson stuffing a $1,000 bribe under her blouse and into her bra, Leno joked, “Talk about putting together a campaign war chest.”

The state Senate took the matter more seriously—especially as federal investigators issued subpoenas to Senate president Therese Murray, among many other state and city officials. The FBI has indicated that no other officials were immediately considered targets of criminal investigation, but the digging by the FBI and other agencies clearly is creating nervousness in the State House and City Hall. The US Attorney’s Office has described the investigation as “ongoing.”

“It’s somber anger,” said local state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, describing the mood at the State House in a Gazette interview. Wilkerson’s alleged bribe-taking undermines public confidence in all elected officials, Sanchez said.

“It just makes all of our work more difficult to protect the most vulnerable,” he said. “People have really been bent of shape [with anger at Wilkerson], including myself.”

In a letter to Murray on the day of the resignation vote, Wilkerson apologized to her fellow senators for “being drawn into the madness that has become my life.”

Wilkerson stayed away from the State House during the resignation vote, saying in her letter, “I will respect whatever decision you make.”

But, as her press release after the vote made clear, “respect” is not the same as “obey.”

“Surely the members of the state Senate could not have believed that such a monumental decision would be made within a few hours,” Wilkerson said in the press release. “A decision like this could be comforting to some but could prove disastrous to others.

“This district is more dependent on government working for it than any other,” Wilkerson said. “Constituents calls continue unabated even through this week. As a case in point, a call came in this week from a family that lost a child to violence that is seeking help raising money for that child’s funeral.”

The Senate resolution calling for Wilkerson’s resignation cited not only her corruption charges but also some low points of her long history of legal problems. They include her 1997 conviction for willful failure to file federal income taxes for four years, and her 1998 and 2008 admissions to multiple violations of campaign finance reporting laws.

The only previous sanction the Senate placed on Wilkerson for the earlier problems was stripping her of a single committee chairmanship. A big difference this time is that the corruption charges are far more serious. Another big difference is that this is the first Wilkerson investigation that puts other senators under investigators’ spotlights as well.

The Senate resignation request said Wilkerson’s past and present problems suggest possible violations of the Senate’s Rule 10. That internal rule “requires that senators avoid improper exertion of their influence as senators and avoid the appearance of same,” the resolution said.

To download full text of the FBI complaint against Wilkerson, click here

The Gazette will continue to report on this story on the web site as it develops.

For full coverage of Wilkerson’s case and the Nov. 4 election, see the Nov. 7 Gazette.