Wilkerson, a lawmaker and a lawyer, has accumulated a record of ethical and legal transgressions too significant to ignore. Her dismissal of these violations as “accounting errors” doesn’t stand up to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s declaration of a “pattern of conduct that frankly seems capable of repetition” and demand for increased monitoring of Wilkerson’s campaign finances to prevent future abuses. More troubling than the violations is her attitude. Instead of publicly accepting blame and expressing remorse, she disrespects the law, the whole notion of obeying the law. What example does this set for young people who look to her as a role model?
Wilkerson’s failings extend into her legislative life, where she quietly files for favors to various business interests. For example, she keeps trying to funnel subsidies to the Columbus Center project; but the “community benefits package” she is chasing is illusory, and her claim that Columbus would create sustainable employment for her out-of-work constituents doesn’t jibe with the project’s real job estimates. Her rationale is that since we waste millions in public funds on other boondoggles, she’s willing to waste millions here, because even a few low-paying dead-end jobs look good to the unemployed. But this is not a path to community uplift. This strategy perpetuates a “grab-bag” conception of the budget process that corrupts the government, dissipates our taxes and leaves only crumbs for the basic community infrastructure that will really help, such as education, housing, health care and transportation. Why doesn’t she fight to stop all the corporate welfare and direct the money to those community needs?
Similarly, she has always accepted the high-risk bioterror lab, again for the “jobs,” but her expectations for constituent employment opportunities in this highly specialized bio-defense facility are simply unrealistic. Ironically, the original development plan for the project site was reduced by 300,000 square feet when the bio-terror lab, with its spacious security-buffer needs, was added. The manufacturing uses included in that plan would have provided hundreds of well-paying jobs at the site for her constituents, without risk to their lives. Why wasn’t she fighting for that?
She has supported community-opposed expansion by Northeastern University into the neighborhood, again on unsubstantiated promises of “jobs” and “community benefits.”
She quietly inserted a provision into the economic stimulus package of 2006 to give all control of the Central Artery Greenway park to a private business group.
She voted against clean election financing on three measures overwhelmingly approved by her constituents. A review of her campaign donations reveals heavy support from the development industry (and much donor information is missing).
True, to Dianne’s credit, she has supported gay rights, as would Sonia. But the massmarrier blog, pondering unending and unconditional gratitude from the gay community, has summarized her legislative work thus: “She is eager to claim credit for bills she voted for or came in as a mass co-sponsor when they were rolling. It is very hard to find any she originates or is lead sponsor for. She has been pretty good at finding places to insert earmarks, not coincidentally, for each of her neighborhoods and major constituencies. She’s a piggypacker. …Others did the work and where she delivered the bacon, it was as an add-on tucked in the legislation of others.”
Dianne Wilkerson reportedly does “bring home the bacon,” especially to black organizations. The relatively small money she brings to the impoverished black community may be a helpful “share-the-wealth” for a few groups and individuals. But look at her fifteen-year term: Has she uplifted the black community as a whole? Has she been creating the underpinnings for long-term political and economic self-sufficiency with fundamental education, industrial development, environmental justice and land-use reforms?
Faustian bargains with developers and bacon-bringing politics are short-sighted strategies that keep poor people resigned to a cynical and self-defeating strategy of going along with big-ticket boondoggles so they can grab for scraps. And I think all the politicians who endorse Dianne really know this. We shouldn’t settle for so little. We should focus on big-picture needs and structural change in resource distribution. We need principled leaders to stand up against both waste and inequity. Sonia promises to be a hawk for transparency, efficiency, honesty, and accountability.
Sonia’s message is about long-term investments in critical community infrastructure that would work for all of us, rather than treating the budget as a grab-bag of goodies. She talks about improving public education, housing security, health care affordability, smart growth and transit. A former urban school teacher and the daughter of a social worker and of the first Latino astronaut in America’s space program, she wants to give the next generation a more hopeful vision for their own future.
To accomplish these goals, she points out, we need leadership with ethics and accountability to counter growing public cynicism and inspire confidence in our government. We need high expectations, high standards for public leaders who represent us in the state house; we need leadership to be proud of. I think this is the basic idea in this campaign. Values and issues have to be combined with ethics and accountability, to get an electorate willing to invest in the big solutions for our communities.
Sonia’s parents (like mine) emphasized the importance of trying to what is not possible. In truth, only if we try for the impossible will we get to the necessary.