The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wilkerson's Fall

A classmate's perspective.

The recent arrest and resignation of Massachusetts State Senator Dianne Wilkerson is exactly the sort of corruption story I usually pounce on. But in this case I have hesitated to say anything. The reason is that I once knew Dianne Wilkerson when we were both teenagers at the High School of Commerce in Springfield.

Wilkerson was not born in Springfield, having moved to Massachusetts from Arkansas at the age of five. She was part of the first generation to suffer under Springfield's busing policies, and has spoken on the feelings of alienation she felt when forced to attend a predominantly white school. In Commerce I knew her as a smart, quiet kid who suddenly became the center of controversy when she became pregnant in her senior year. The custom at that time was for pregnant students to quietly withdraw from school, but Wilkerson demanded, and won, the right to graduate with our class.

Later she went to American International College, also in Springfield, and then to law school in Boston. Since she stayed in the Boston area after obtaining her law degree most of us lost track of her, until she suddenly resurfaced in 1993 as a Boston based State Senator, the first black woman to achieve such a high post. Of course as her former classmates we were all very proud of her, but then came the scandals, and there were a lot of them. According to the

Wilkerson was sentenced to house arrest in December 1997 after pleading guilty to failing to pay $51,000 in federal income taxes in the early 1990s. She was suspended from practicing law for one year in 1999 because of the conviction and did not seek reinstatement.

In 2001, she was fined $1,000 by the State Ethics Commission for failing to properly report that a bank she lobbied for as senator was paying her more than $20,000 a year as a consultant.

In September 2005, the state Attorney General and head of the state’s campaign finance office filed a lawsuit against Wilkerson, alleging she had not reported nearly $27,000 in donations and refused to explain more than $18,000 in personal reimbursements. She agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and forego about $30,000 in debts owed her to settle the allegations.

The state Office of the Bar Counsel filed a complaint on October 3, 2008, accusing Wilkerson of violating the rules of professional conduct by lying under oath at a 2005 court hearing at which her nephew, Jermaine Berry, requested a new trial on a manslaughter conviction.

On October 28, 2008, Wilkerson was arrested by the FBI on public corruption charges. A federal criminal complaint was filed against her that alleges she was caught on tape stuffing a cash bribe into her bra and accepted those cash payments in exchange for her official duties and responsibilities. She is currently free on a $50,000 non-surety bond after having appeared in U.S. District Court.

On November 18, 2008, a federal grand jury indicted Wilkerson on eight counts of accepting bribes.

Wilkerson also had an annoying tendency to denounce as racists anyone who questioned her. But even those who want to be supportive of Wilkerson now find it very difficult to explain away those videos. Of course no one could feast on a scandal like this quite like Howie Carr, who has compiled this list of the winners and losers in the Wilkerson affair:

• Attorney General Martha Coakley, loser. This happened, literally, under Martha’s nose. Martha, the Crime Watch in your neighborhood failed.

• Speaker Sal DiMasi, loser. Martha is now going to have to start turning over some rocks that the culprits are hiding under, and her No. 1 target these days is Sal’s, ahem, accountant. I predict she turns up the heat.

• Secretary of State Bill Galvin, winner. No need to worry about Dianne’s sticker campaign now.

• Gov. Deval Patrick, winner. Now he doesn’t have to give her that $107,000-a-year job on the Industrial Accident Board. But we won’t forget the robo-calls he made for her before the primary.

• Mayor Mumbles Menino, loser. So what if he only took a call from her, he still has some ’splainin’ to do, about why he was such a big Dianne backer in the primary campaign.

• Black ministers of Roxbury, losers. Remember that sticker campaign for Sister Dianne - never mind, brethren!

• Public Corruption Unit, U.S. attorney’s office, winner. This is a nice appetizer, now it’s time for the main course - the Boston Fire Department.

• Sen. John Kerry, winner. Wasn’t Dianne supposed to be some big speaker at the 2004 Democratic convention here in Boston, but then got yanked at the last minute? Good move, somebody.

• Sen. Barack Obama, winner. She’s been with him at a Boston event at least once, but so far we haven’t been able to come up with a picture. So far.

What happened to the Dianne Wilkerson I knew at the High School of Commerce? I could be nice and say that she was corrupted once she moved east to the big city, but then she comes from Springfield, one of the most corrupt cities in Massachusetts! Now she must learn the hard way, like Gerry Phillips, Papa Ray Asselin, Anthony Ardolino and Frankie Keough, that the scams can go on for only so long before the inevitable arrest - after which all your worst nightmares come true.

At the First Congregational Church in Amherst today there was the annual "Cranberry Bog" fundraising event. Here a Seuss hat wearing Pat Vittum and her assistant Eric Allen supervise the silent auction.

I also noticed in Amherst today that the tables and chairs that usually sit outside of Rao's Coffee shop have all been put aside and chained up.

No surprise, with the arctic weather we've been having who would want to sit outside? Indeed, the re-appearance of Rao's outdoor cafe culture is one of the surest signs of spring in Amherst every year.

Speaking of cold, let me take you back to the Cold War year of 1985 for this otherwise beautiful song which unfortunately wrongheadedly declared the Cold War unwinnable. In fact it was only a short while after this song was popular that the Cold War was won by the United States under the leadership of Ronald Reagan.