Wilkerson: On A Mission From God

Dianne Wilkerson’s Jamaica Plain and Beacon Hill supporters who are unfamiliar with the Grove Hall area likely had no problem finding the senator’s first post-primary rally last night. No matter which direction people arrived from there were hordes of red-shirted Wilkerson enthusiasts greeting folks and hoisting signs as if the eight-term incumbent hadn’t lost to political newcomer Sonia Chang-Diaz less than one week earlier. Sure, Wilkerson demanded a re-count in five of the Second Suffolk Senate District’s ten wards (and got three of them granted); hence the press conference. But I hardly expected so many cheerleaders.

On the ground I realized that the Prince Hall congregation was not so much a press conference as it was a gathering for still-believers, who by night’s end totaled at least 350 people – black and white, young and old, gay and straight. Former Boston NAACP President Louis Elisa led the charge with a sentiment that would ring throughout the evening: “This looks like it could be a harbinger of things to come in the national election,” he said before calling up a minister whose invocation in not so many words asked God to overturn this past week’s results.

The nearly two-hour event brought a heavy speaker line-up, from local clergy and politicos to community organizers and residents. Reverend Culpepper, who attended law school with the senator, was the first to address why Wilkerson might have come up short: “There were some powerful folks who put a lot of money into this election to make sure Dianne was defeated,” he charged. “Now it’s time for us to stand for Dianne; we lost the skirmish, but I’m claiming victory in the battle tonight.” At this point it was clear that the senator had more than just a recount up her sleeve.  

By the time Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner stepped up the joint was stuffed and the sandwich buffet demolished. Turner wasted no time before accusing Chang-Diaz of having no roots in Boston’s black and Latin communities; “That seat Dianne sits on was created by this community,” he said, reflecting the entitlement that many Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester residents have for the senate post. The councilor finished with his argument that one of several politicians from outside the black community – who have always wanted Wilkerson’s seat but feared her incumbency – could easily snatch the crown from Chang-Diaz in 2010.

The next culprit was the press, with Chinese Progressive Association Executive Director Lydia Lowe (quite accurately) accusing the Boston Globe of misreporting that Chinatown pulled for Chang-Diaz. ETHOS Executive Director Dale Mitchell – a gay white advocate for the elderly – followed with a promise to win back voters in his Jamaica Plain community. “This primary was a defeat for all of us,” Mitchell said on the verge of tears over his neighborhood’s unwillingness to unite behind Wilkerson.

Before the senator came up, METCO Executive Director Jean McGuire summarized the prevalent arguments against Chang-Diaz: most notably that Wilkerson lost because of confusion over polling locations (complaint forms were located at the table up front), and that the situation is tantamount to another four years of George Bush. “Isn’t this Florida and Ohio all over again,” she asked. “This will be the first time we don’t have a person of color in the State House. If we don’t get Dianne back in the State House, then Obama can’t help you.”

Emerging to Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” Wilkerson came right out with her inspiration for that moment on: “God is good,” she said. “The time for tears is over.” The senator told supporters that despite the press reporting differently, she won the Chinese and Latin wards. She then ran through an abridged list of her accomplishments – from racial profiling reform and wrongful conviction compensation to emergency contraception – before biblically challenging Chang-Diaz head-on: “If you can’t handle the footmen, then you can’t run with the horses,” she said. “I run with the horses…This district is not for sale.”

About ten minutes in Wilkerson got to the meat, telling folks over massive applause that she will absolutely pursue a sticker campaign no matter what happens with Saturday’s recount. “I would not do so if I did not believe that I could win,” she said.  “And this ain’t Lieberman; I’m not an independent – I’m a Democrat.” How is she so sure of victory? “Last Saturday I was prayed on by 80 ministers,” Wilkerson announced, “so I know who’s guiding this one.”

The truth is that while Wilkerson has the God squad on her side, she has some tangible advantages as well. Recent history shows that she’s powerful enough to pull off a successful write-in campaign; against Chang-Diaz nonetheless, and in a year when record numbers of black voters were not expected to hit the polls for Barack Obama.

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