For Wilkerson, a looming question of culpability

TENACITY ALONE SOMETIMES brings its own rewards, and Dianne Wilkerson certainly looks determined to complete her return from the political wilderness more than a decade after being sent off to federal prison for abusing the power of her elected office. 

Some may call it more a matter of chutzpah.

A one-time rock star on the political landscape, the former Roxbury pol became the first Black woman elected to the state Senate in 1992 before a long fall that included various tax and campaign finance charges and ended with a bang – a felony extortion conviction that sent her to federal prison in Connecticut for two and a half years.

But more than a decade after her once promising political career came crashing down, Wilkerson appears poised to mount a comeback attempt. On Friday, she pulled nomination papers to seek her former Senate seat. It’s an open-seat contest with Sonia Chang-Diaz, who defeated Wilkerson in a Democratic primary 14 years ago, giving up the post to run for governor. Wilkerson declined to comment on her plans yesterday to GBH and the Boston Herald

Wilkerson had made no secret of the fact that she was considering a comeback attempt, and she has been increasingly visible on the local scene. She has been outspoken during the pandemic as a leader of the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition. She also attempted to organize Black voters to rally around Kim Janey – who ended up placing fourth in last year’s mayoral race in Boston. 

Her entry would scramble what had been shaping up as a three-way Democratic primary for the Senate seat among state Reps. Nika Elugardo and Liz Miranda and Rev. Miniard Culpepper. 

A big question looming over a Wilkerson comeback run will be how she frames her federal corruption conviction. Wilkerson pleaded guilty to taking $23,500 in bribes to help a businessman with approvals to open a Roxbury nightclub. She was caught on surveillance video stuffing $100 bills into her bra – a shot that the Herald reminds readers of this morning by splashing it across its front page. 

Despite the now infamous photo and guilty plea, Wilkerson has never exactly fallen on her sword and squarely admitted wrongdoing. In a GBH story a year ago, titled “The rehabilitation of Dianne Wilkerson,” she points to being set up by the feds in a sting operation. 

When asked by GBH reporter Phillip Martin whether she regrets her actions, Wilkerson offered a curious reply. 

“I would say yes,” she said. “But I don’t know what I could have done, like I did not expect [the informant] to bring cash and I couldn’t walk down the street with it in my fist. It was out of caution as opposed to subterfuge. Like, I didn’t even have an envelope.”

But the crime wasn’t that she stuffed cash in her bra rather than discreetly in a brown envelope. 

In a lengthy profile three months ago in Boston Magazine, Wilkerson suggests the conviction was all a mistake. 

“I’m trying to go through it and I can’t think of anything I shouldn’t have done, because I know so much more about what happened,” she told writer Catherine Elton while seated at No. 9 Park, the swank restaurant in the shadow of the State House that was the scene of the famous photo. She goes on to suggest the money was all above board because she was working as a consultant for the businessman who handed her the wad of $100 bills that day. 

Asked why she pled guilty then, Wilkerson tells Elton she didn’t think she would be judged by enough Black jurors who would understand the role of racism in her arrest, and that she’d be convicted and face a longer sentence if she took the case to trial. 

How that account will play in the court of public opinion is now the question. 

MICHAEL JONAS

FROM COMMONWEALTH

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FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

The state is flush with cash, but the Democratic-controlled Legislature seems set at this point on expanding spending priorities, not returning some of it to residents in tax breaks. (Boston Globe

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The owners of a Beverly assisted living facility that suddenly turned out 67 residents due to a renovation, with no guarantee they can return, envisioned “fun and riches” when they started the company, according to court documents in a lawsuit accusing the owners of misappropriating trade secrets. (Salem News)

The Lynn City Council approves an ordinance that would sharply increase fines for improper use of motorized bikes, scooters, and other similar means of transportation. (Daily Item)

New Bedford prepares to sell 100 acres from a city-owned golf course to create a new campus for life sciences and other cutting-edge industries. (Standard-Times)

ELECTIONS

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce joins the lawsuit challenging the proposed “millionaires tax” ballot question. (Boston Herald

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Massachusetts plans to borrow more money to shore up the unemployment insurance trust fund. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Never mind: A day after suggesting the Red Sox were running afoul of state law by shifting all vending operations at Fenway Park to cashless transactions, Attorney General Maura Healey says the change is OK after all. (Boston Globe

Boston-area baristas say they’re facing a culture of intimidation from Starbucks as they mount efforts to unionize. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Harvard pledges to spend $100 million to research and atone for its historic ties to slavery. (Associated Press)

State education leaders have launched a review process to consider raising the MCAS graduation requirement standards. (Boston Globe

The Southeastern Regional School Committee, which oversees the regional vocational high school in Easton, is being roiled by controversy involving its chair, Tony Branch, who narrowly survived the second vote in a month to censure him. (The Enterprise)  

The Dartmouth School Committee votes to keep their controversial “Indian” name and logo. (Standard-Times)

ARTS/CULTURE

The state’s cultural sector has lost close to $800 million due to the pandemic, according to a new report from the Mass Cultural Council. (Boston Globe

The Page House in Danvers and Hamilton Hall in Salem will become part of the National Votes for Women Trail, which recognizes 2,360 sites across the country that contributed to the fight to give women the right to vote. (Gloucester Daily Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Maine bans the importation of trash and construction debris from out-of-state to one of Maine’s largest landfills, which now gets a majority of its waste from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and other states. (Gloucester Daily Times)

A new report says the state’s 40 municipally owned electric companies lag far behind for-profit utilities in the share of their power that comes from clean energy sources. (Boston Globe

MEDIA

The sheriff of Los Angeles County indicated he intended to investigate and possibly prosecute a Los Angeles Times reporter for her involvement in obtaining a damaging police video and then later backed off after facing strong criticism. (Los Angeles Times)

The New York Times opinion section doubles in size. (Axios)