Loyalty, ethics, virtue, and Wilkerson

Friday’s press conference by Gov. Deval Patrick to announce that he’s naming a special commission on ethics had an interesting moment. Although Patrick said a string of troubling cases involving ethics in state and local government prompted his move, there was little doubt that this was all about Tuesday’s arrest of state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson on federal bribery charges, and she was the only elected official Patrick discussed by name.

Patrick offered a sweeping argument for strengthening ethics and lobbying laws. He then tied it to his efforts to promote civic engagement by saying citizens, too, have a responsibility. He decried the fact that so few incumbents face challengers in Massachusetts, and encouraged residents to run for office, participate in campaigns, and vote.  AP reporter Glen Johnson asked the first question. Wilkerson, he said, had a prior federal conviction for not filing income tax returns and she agreed to pay thousands of dollars to settle cases of campaign finance law violations brought by the attorney general, one of them resolved just weeks ago. She also was facing a bright, capable challenger, Sonia Chang-Diaz, who shared her progressive views. In spite of all that, Johnson said, Patrick endorsed Wilkerson in the September Democratic primary, a move that seems entirely at odds with his call for high ethical standards and vigorous competition for elected offices.

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Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Patrick defended his endorsement by recalling that Wilkerson was the first elected official to endorse his run for governor when he was an "improbable" unknown to most voters. Such a nod to loyalty is a time-honored practice in politics, one that seems to have particular currency in Massachusetts politics.

The idea of loyalty as virtue has great appeal, and there can be instances when it is called for. Perhaps the governor’s primary endorsement of Wilkerson was such a case. Some, no doubt, would not think so. But aren’t there also times when conscience must trump loyalty? Republicans who have endorsed Barack Obama and claimed to do so out of regard for the country’s best interest have abandoned personal or party loyalty they might have had for John McCain. The John F. Kennedy Library gives a "Profiles in Courage" award each year to a political figure who has taken a stand at odds with their own political interests, often bucking an ally or loyal constituency group.

In other words, there are times when loyalty is a virtue; there are also instances when disloyalty is a virtue.  Any thoughts on this and the scandals now swirling around the State House and Boston City Hall?