Socialist studies

Um, Dianne Wilkerson and Sonia Chang-Díaz? Meet the Socialist Workers Party candidate who’s running for your Second Suffolk Senate District seat.
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  October 22, 2008

THIS JUST IN: Chang-Díaz and Wilkerson got the news.

Hey, Dianne Wilkerson! Can you hear this, Sonia Chang-Díaz? There’s a Socialist Workers Party candidate who’s also running for the Second Suffolk Senate District seat. He’s the guy who gets mentioned only at the end of articles about the race. Perhaps you’ve heard about this footnoted Roxbury activist — his name is William Leonard, and he wants to debate both of you.

As suggested in a recent Phoenix blog post, it’s important to relay Leonard’s stances on relevant issues, not just to beat back third-party resentment still lingering from when “Nader” became another “N” word, but because voters in the Second Suffolk deserve — and might even desire — to smell a third turd in the diarrhea duel between Wilkerson and Chang-Díaz. A weathered union organizer, Leonard has more experience than the latter and fewer pending cases than the former, so we offered him a soapbox at this past Saturday’s Stand Up For Peace rally on Boston Common.

It wasn’t difficult to locate Leonard. Although politically he’s as much a populist and pacifist as the majority of bandana-heads who were out protesting the Iraq War and Wall Street, physically he was dressed sharper than most of his ideological peers. With his frosty hair, necktie, and wire glasses, Leonard resembles Barry Bostwick, the actor who played Mayor Randall M. Winston Jr. on the sitcom Spin City. But he’s no opportunistic line-toeing ignoramus. If that were the case, he’d be running as a Democrat.

“The Jamaica Plain Gazette ran a good article about the differences between the candidates the other day, but they did get one thing wrong,” says Leonard. “I didn’t complain that both Chang-Díaz and Wilkerson are members of a party that helps the rich elite rather than the working class — I stated it as a fact. Democrats like Governor Patrick are looking for more programs to cut, while I think we have to break out of the cycle of cutting programs for working people. We need to figure out how to expand these programs, because we need them more than ever today.”

In these times of economic baby-sitting, cries for socialized medicine, and general oppression of the working class, one might expect a blue-collar gladiator like Leonard to grab more than just a few protest votes — particularly since the back-and-forth between his opponents is more slanderous than substantial. The Iowa-born career meat packer — who is renowned in Boston Socialist circles for his unrelenting, unsuccessful fights to win union recognition at Kayem Foods in Chelsea — is an advocate of Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reform, a supporter of affirmative-action quotas, and a vigilant critic of the Boston Police Department’s Safe Homes Initiative. He’s also wildly opposed to Chang-Díaz and Wilkerson’s alignment with former Governor Mitt Romney’s health-care plan. “The only affordable health care,” he says, “is free health care.”

Though the Socialist Workers have their ritual “victory” bash planned for November 4 at the Militant Labor Forum Hall in East Boston, Leonard is as aware as any intelligent third wheel about his shot at winning. Still, he would appreciate a three-way debate. But according to spokespeople from rival campaigns, it doesn’t look like he’ll win that battle, either. “I haven’t given it any thought, but I doubt we would be pushing for it,” says Chang-Díaz campaign manager Deborah Shah. “Our campaign is all about the voters, and at the debates all you really get are the insiders.”

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