What Are Wilkerson's Failings?

Jon Keller, commenting on Dianne Wilkerson's loss this week, writes that he has "always admired her intelligence, resilience, and willingness to charge into the nearly all-white nearly all-male locker room that is Beacon Hill and demand justice for her constituents." So have I.

I would add that she has also proved herself willing to charge into the non-white locker room too, by standing up to black religious leaders on social issues, and by forcefully confronting the Patrick administration on auto insurance and CORI reform, among other issues.

But I'm not sure I can fully agree that her well-known "string of blunders... reflected an increasing disregard for her constituents."

I think that Wilkerson has sometimes done a poor job of giving the appearance of interest in her constituents, for instance by failing to spend enough face time out in her district. That appearance is important, and not just for political reasons; if constituents don't think you're interested in them, then they won't come to you with their problems, and they won't get helped. One of the reasons she has been such an effective advocate for minorities, the disadvantaged, and others, and is so well-loved by many, is because they know that she is willing to listen, and work hard for them, when they come to her. It is Wilkerson's own fault that many in the district did not know that.

I think the "string of blunders" had more to do with her persistent inability, in my opinion, to get and keep good staff -- which is a real failing, and one that results in the kinds of paperwork and deadline issues that have dogged her in recent years.

I also think that a poor job was done by the media -- and I can't exclude myself here -- in helping voters separate out the truth from allegations, and the serious from the trivial, in the laundry list that we all tend to just puree together into "Wilkerson's foibles."

The campaign-finance violations that she settled earlier this year with the Attorney General are a perfect example. Absolutely, Wilkerson failed, repeatedly, at bookkeeping. That's a legitimate failing (especially when you know that your enemies are watching like hawks), but not an ethical lapse.

Did she make any ethical lapses with her campaign finances? I can't say I know the answer for certain. More than one person has told me that they have dug through the materials pretty well, and believe that although there were legitimate violations of the reporting regulations, they saw no significant ethical issues. And I would expect that, if there was anything serious in there, anti-Wilkerson folks would have found it and publicized it.

We certainly don't know the answer by Tom Reilly's blustering lawsuit (which Martha Coakley inherited and settled). Reilly's effort was transparently political and half-baked from the get-go. One of the suit's premiere examples of Wilkerson's "personal" use of campaign funds, for example was the purchase of a $60 brassiere. That was in the actual lawsuit, actually brought forward by the AG after his supposedly thorough "investigation" into Wilkerson's finance reports. (Here's an image of the next-day Herald story highlighting the bra purchase -- also note that the other alleged personal expenses look an awful lot like normal campaign expenditures, like pizza and cab rides.) 

Problem: it was not a bra. It was a receipt from Brasserie Joe. As in, the restaurant in Copley Square. It was a receipt for a meal at a well-known local restaurant. And the AG called it, in his lawsuit and press conference, a purchase of a "brassiere," and made it the centerpiece of his case against a state senator. I am not making this up. 

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