At her campaign kickoff, on July 10, Wilkerson trotted out a host of endorsers to speak for her, including state legislators, city councilors, and civic leaders. They were of all colors and represented all parts of the district, which ranges through Chinatown, Beacon Hill, Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan.
Wilkerson’s campaign has become a particular cause of Murray’s, who entered the State Senate with Wilkerson 15 years ago (as part of a powerhouse group of five female freshmen that also included Cheryl Jacques, Shannon O’Brien, and Maureen Walsh).
Murray, who became Senate president in 2007, is helping Wilkerson not only on the stump, but in passing legislation to tout on the trail. “Terry Murray’s ascension has given me more opportunity to do some of the things I came to do,” says Wilkerson. “It has created new opportunities for me, and therefore for the district.”
For example, the Senate just passed a version of an oral-health bill, intended to address the estimated 400,000 children in the state — many in urban areas like her district — who are eligible for dental coverage under MassHealth yet don’t have an available dentist who takes MassHealth patients. An economic bond bill currently in the House will, if passed, provide funding for a new Kelly Skating Rink to break ground in Jamaica Plain this fall.
And, perhaps key to the election, Wilkerson has been central to an impressive string of gay-rights victories. Not only did the legislature defeat the constitutional-amendment initiative against same-sex marriage, Wilkerson also led the recent passage of a repeal of the so-called 1913 Law that restricts the state from marrying most out-of-state gay couples. (The repeal now awaits Patrick’s signature.) During the budget debate, Wilkerson also added $300,000 to a fund for LGBT youth — more than doubling the line item.
“Our community cannot afford to lose Dianne Wilkerson,” says Marc Solomon, MassEquality’s campaign director. Solomon has already held a fundraiser for Wilkerson, and put out a statement of support along with other gay-rights leaders — even though Chang-Díaz backs the same issues. “There’s a big difference between voting the right way,” says Solomon, “and speaking out and having people listen.”
Still, in 2006, MassEquality’s efforts — and all the other endorsements — were not enough to help Wilkerson in Jamaica Plain, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and the South End. Those areas of the district, home to large numbers of the city’s gays and lesbians, voted solidly — in some cases overwhelmingly — for Chang-Díaz.
The bottom line in 2006 was that black voters thwarted the attempt of white voters, both gay and straight, to vote Wilkerson out of office, and she may need them to do it again.
In 2006 Wilkerson was helped dramatically by African-American voters turning out in huge numbers to vote for Patrick in the gubernatorial primary. Roxbury’s Ward 12, for example — where votes went 16-to-one for Wilkerson over Chang-Díaz — had 40-percent turnout. Black voters are certainly aware of Wilkerson’s foibles, yet even at her lowest points most have proven willing to forgive her.
Wilkerson won by more than 1500 votes in Ward 12, countering Chang-Díaz’s 1100-vote margin in Ward 19, which includes Jamaica Plain and Roslindale. Several political observers say that, this year, without Patrick on the ballot, Roxbury’s numbers will probably fall off more sharply than JP’s, meaning it will cost Wilkerson more votes than Chang-Díaz.