Friday, October 31, 2008

Wilkerson, Church Leaders Discuss Exit

The exit strategy for State Senator Dianne Wilkerson will play out longer than was expected by even some of the closest supporters in her community.

It was reported this morning that church leaders in the Ten Point Coalition and Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston would follow the lead of the state senate and ask for Wilkerson’s resignation. But, before their scheduled announcement at the Charles Street AME Church in Roxbury, Wilkerson arrived there to meet them for what her campaign manager, Boyce Slayman, called a conversation that “had to happen.”

When the announcement took place shortly before noon, it was Wilkerson who broke the news by saying she would suspend the sticker campaign she began after losing the Democratic primary September 16 to challenger Sonia Chang-Díaz. And Wilkerson said she would make an announcement concerning the remainder of her current term after the final election, on Wednesday, November 5.

Slayman said the talks before the announcement touched on Wilkerson’s exit strategy and “what could or could not be said legally” due to corruption charges by the US Attorney Michael Sullivan. After the talks, the announcement was made with Wilkerson and the church leaders standing together.

“We’re simply standing with the senator today, recognizing that she is a part of our community. We dearly love her and will continue to pray for her,” said the president of the Black Ministerial Alliance, Bishop Gilbert Thompson.

The chairman of the Ten Point Coalition, Rev. Ray Hammond, said church leaders would also “continue to work to see that, in fact, what is right is done.”

Slayman said Wilkerson’s decision to suspend her campaign was “in large part, primarily for the community,” but that a “significant consideration” was the well-being of her family.

“The press attention to the accusation by the US Attorney caused a lot of consternation within the community,” said Slayman, “and there is also the consideration that she has gotten a lot of calls—mostly in support, but we’ve also gotten a few critical calls.”

Even before yesterday’s vote in the senate—and its seconding by Governor Patrick, the black community’s weekly newspaper, the Bay State Banner, had withdrawn its endorsement of Wilkerson’s re-election. But Slayman says the district would suffer if Wilkerson were to resign before a new senator takes office.

“One of the stories that’s beginning to be told even at the end of this campaign are the contributions she’s made to this community, representing people, working with mothers of children who’ve been murdered, getting people who’ve been sentenced to prison wrongly some compensation,” said Slayman. “The things she’s done took a real strong person to do, and the concern is that the person on the ballot now, if they have the will to do that, it would just take so much time to learn the system and to gain the influence to make the difference, and to really learn the constituency—she hasn’t lived in this community, hasn’t invested very much time here. And so the concern is that the community needs government more than most other senate districts in the state.”

Later this afternoon, Chang-Díaz appealed to Wilkerson supporters in the senate district for their partnership and help.

In a statement issued by her campaign, Chang-Díaz said, “I will go to the mat for the constituents of the Second Suffolk every day on the issues affecting our families the most—whether it's improving our public schools, stemming youth violence, tackling CORI reform, or fighting for affordable housing. We all know solutions won't happen overnight, but I can tell you I will work, from Day One, to build the coalitions both in- and outside the State House necessary to pass the legislation we need.”

The same afternoon, Governor Patrick announced formation of a new bipartisan task force on ethics reform. The task force would be headed by the governor’s chief legal counsel, Ben Clements, a former federal prosecutor who worked four years in the Public Corruption and Special Prosecutions Unit. The move follows developments in the Wilkerson case, but also investigations of lobbying by associates of House Speaker Sal DiMasi.