I am genuinely saddened by the news that former state senator Dianne Wilkerson has been sentenced to three and a half years federal imprisonment. I don't disagree with the punishment. But I am saddened nonetheless.
Wilkerson has been in many ways a terrific public servant to the Commonwealth, and to her constituents. She was a constant and stalwart advocate for those in society who most needed one. At her best, I found her to be not only one of the smartest legislators on Beacon Hill, but a savvy operator -- she was not there just to throw bombs, but to actually affect change. (She was also, in my opinion, a great spotter of young talent, although not necessarily the best utilizer of that talent.)
It's also worth noting that for a long stretch of time, she was essentially the upper point of the pyramid to which all of black Boston's issues ultimately converged. That was a heavy burden -- not to mention time commitment -- that I think went underappreciated by many.
Wilkerson at her best was the potential political superstar we all thought she was when she first ran for state senate (which was when I first met her). Needless to say, she was not always at her best. Her flaws and faults diminished her effectiveness for years, and have now put her, justifiably, in prison.
One more point. Wilkerson was, in my opinion, harshly and at times unfairly pursued by her critics. That was at least in part relatable to race; as the lone black senator, she pursued accusations coming from the black community -- about police practices, hiring discrimination, education disparities, and so on -- that, right or wrong, by their nature challenged the existing order.
But she made it much easier for her critics, and difficult for her defenders, by her own failures and misdeeds. Officeholders today and beyond -- especially, but not only, racial minorities -- would be wise to bear that closely in mind.