These are, of course, references to Wilkerson’s colorful history. In 1997, she pleaded guilty to failure to file federal income taxes; she was later caught violating terms of her house arrest, and was placed in a halfway house. In 2000, she briefly faced foreclosure proceedings after failing to pay her mortgage. In 2005, the state’s attorney general filed charges of campaign-finance illegalities stemming from 2000 and 2001, a case that is still pending. (Through all these troubles, she held onto her seat.)
Platforms appear almost irrelevant. Both candidates are solid liberals, matching each other on almost every issue. There are a few points where they differ. Chang-Díaz is critical of state assistance to Columbus Center developers; Wilkerson says the promise of jobs justifies the expenditures. Wilkerson supports the Boston University Biolab project, again citing anticipated jobs; Chang-Díaz believes the state should require more study of the safety issues. Chang-Díaz favors publicly funded elections; Wilkerson has not supported such measures.
But these and other slight disagreements hardly seem to matter. The race is clearly a referendum on Wilkerson’s personal foibles. “The main issue is putting someone in office who will represent the district with integrity,” says Michael Lake, a Chang-Díaz volunteer.
The ballot-signature screw-up in 2006 seemed proof to some that Wilkerson, after years of promising to clean up her act, was simply incapable of doing so. It brought something that Wilkerson never previously faced, even when those earlier troubles befell her: a serious re-election challenger.
During the campaign, allegations continued to unfold: that she had committed perjury in testimony regarding a nephew’s criminal proceedings; and that she improperly used campaign funds for personal use in 2004.
Wilkerson and her supporters have argued that these more recent charges were politically motivated and baseless allegations planted in the press in an attempt to finish her off. She may have a point. Two years later, no action has been taken on either charge by the Suffolk County district attorney, or the state attorney general, both of whom were investigating.
And thus far, she’s avoided any new fiascos. “It’s a different race,” says one Democratic activist in Jamaica Plain. “Dianne’s transgressions are much less immediate in people’s minds.”
“It will never be gone,” admits Wilkerson, “but it will never be swirling in the volume that it was in 2006.”
Chang-Díaz has been on the hustings full-time since leaving her job at the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center earlier this year. Now, with the end of July bringing the Senate session to a close this week, Wilkerson is about to get off the sidelines — and she’s bringing some powerful friends with her.
Since Wilkerson defeated Chang-Díaz, and went on to easily defeat a Republican challenger for re-election, there have been two huge alterations to the political landscape: the inauguration of Deval Patrick as governor and the election of Therese Murray as Senate president. Both are strong allies of Wilkerson, and with them in power, she has become one of the most influential people in state government.
This is clearly the heart of Wilkerson’s strategy, to argue that she alone has the power to accomplish things — both for the district, and for the progressive ideals of the voters.