Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A huge protest against Wilkerson

Look for Chang-Diaz in 2008.
by Kevin John Sowyrda

If I had told you just two years ago, despite her myriad of legal problems and an attitude of self-entitlement that could fill Foxboro Stadium, that 13 year incumbent state senator Diane Wilkerson would be nearly beaten in a sticker-write-in-campaign by a 28 year old social studies teacher and neophyte to electoral politics, you would have rejected the concept out of hand with good reason. But Sonia Chang-Diaz almost did it, and how and why it happened is to be ignored only by the propagandists who continue to cover for Wilkerson, a law maker whose odd journey through life is worthy of a dramatic series on Masterpiece Theatre.

Chang-Diaz garnered more than 5,000 votes, nearly besting the incumbent in a state where incumbents are rarely toppled in their own primaries. But Wilkerson is a rare breed of politician and the enormous protest vote is a message to be ignored only at the senator's own peril, should she wish to run successfully again in two years.

Yes, it's apparent that Wilkerson probably survived this unlikely challenge and may win again in November. Despite her status as the most scandal plagued Bay State legislator of the day, Wilkerson has proven to be a quintessential anomaly to cover, the incontrovertible survivor of bad press. Ronald Reagan's infamous Teflon coating would be inert when compared to Wilkerson's uncanny ability to soar above the storm clouds and turbulence of her self created political controversies. George Bush must look at this woman with green envy in his eyes.

Though serious Democrats no longer take her seriously, the misplaced loyalty of some of Wilkerson's constituents - good people who deserve better - have fueled her insufferable campaigns to cling to public office despite a credibility ratio on par with the credit rating of El Salvador. There's certainly a junta in the Hub that's built a Berlin Wall around Wilkerson for her protection sake, certainly a necessity given the phalanx of state investigators who continue to unearth inscrutable evidence that the senator simply lacks any semblance of senatorial judgement. Her months as a prisoner in a half way house - for pleading guilty on tax evasion charges - have done little to humble Wilkerson. The "do you know who I am" demeanor is omnipresent and clearly exhibited, almost weekly, by the decisions she makes; I hope in bad conscience.

But somebody forget to tell Chang-Diaz that running against an incumbent in the incumbent's own primary is a fruitless endeavor, where the challenger will be utterly blown away and humiliated, never able to eat lunch in this town again. I think Chang-Diaz ran a first class campaign and has proven to be a woman who is not easily intimated by what can often be the aggressive tactics of veteran political operations. Chang-Diaz had ideas, Change-Diaz was graceful, and, apparently almost half of those who voted in this contest considered her worthy of the senate seat. That's an event worth analyzing.

A seemingly inevitable recount and unusually harsh words from State Secretary Bill Galvin regarding election procedures have left a dark cloud over the Primary Day results. However, recounts thus far show that Chang-Diaz will unlikely be sitting in the senate chamber this January.

However, out there somewhere are more than 5,000 people who made the unorthodox effort to write in the name of a very young woman whose never held public office in her life. Those 5,000 people are emblematic of a growing frustration with an intelligent incumbent senator who needs to start behaving intelligently.

I for one could survive without the daily briefings on who Wilkerson owes money to and how many rubber checks she tried to pass by her condo association. "That's got nothin to do with me," as an old South End friend told me this morning. But there is something we should care about. The ongoing state investigation of thousands of campaign dollars spent illegally by Wilkerson, allegedly, is one of the most damning cases I've witnessed in years against a public official in the Commonwealth.

Campaign treasuries are, by legal definition, public funds; and must be treated with the appropriate prudence. To read the "indictments" from the attorney general and the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance as to what Wilkerson has done with these public monies is painfully ironic given Wilkerson's background as a trained lawyer and officer of the court. But, in this writer's opinion, the evidence is simply overwhelming that the senator has clearly treated her campaign fund as a personal reservoir for self aggrandizement.

The abuse of public trust by a public official should be heinous to anyone who cares about preserving a vibrant democracy and a healthy state government. If Wilkerson were a gray haired Republican, under these same circumstances, you can bet the house that the Globe and other papers would have demanded her resignation long ago. Apparently more than 5,000 people agree with me on this point.

Additional Wilkerson embarrassments will swell the ranks of the loyal opposition and propel Chang-Diaz to a highly credible rematch in '08. If the senator's behavior is not much improved, it won't take much to swing just a few hundred votes to defeat the state's most controversial legislator in about 24 months.

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