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Yvonne Abraham

Unsolved mysteries

By Yvonne Abraham
Globe Columnist / November 2, 2008
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Dianne Wilkerson has finally given up her campaign to retain her Senate seat. Whether or not the senator resigns from office after the election on Tuesday, she will soon be gone.

But the effects of Wilkerson's arrest on corruption charges will linger. Since the US attorney unsealed documents last Tuesday, neighborhood activists and elected officials have been raking over their past dealings with the senator, reassessing them in the context of the bribery allegations. A blizzard of suspicions has blanketed the state, some of them backed up by federal subpoenas.

Here are just a few of the many questions raised by last week's events.

Will Wilkerson take anybody down with her?

A handful of city and state politicians have been drawn into the morass already. Senate President Therese Murray, Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston, and others have denied specific charges contained in the FBI affidavit, that they helped deliver the liquor license for which Wilkerson allegedly was paid handsomely. But so many subpoenas have rained down upon the city that it's clear there will be more casualties.

What is the real deal with Columbus Center?

Why did Wilkerson throw herself behind the controversial and now-stalled project with such passion? Why did she go to the mat again and again to get support and public subsidies for the $800 million hotel, residential, and retail complex over the Massachusetts Turnpike when many of her constituents opposed the project? What was her relationship with Columbus Center developer Arthur Winn?

The feds are quite interested in answering these questions themselves, apparently. Winn got served last week.

And Columbus Center was just one of the many developments in which Wilkerson took an interest.

What about that big 22-story dormitory Northeastern University is building on the corner of Ruggles and Tremont streets? Why did Wilkerson support that project over many of her constituents' objections that it was far too big and that the school had not provided enough benefits to the community in return for the right to bring more than a thousand students into the neighborhood?

And why did the senator oppose other Northeastern plans to expand farther into her district a year later? Was she acting in the best interests of her constituents, or was she really working to help one of the many developers with whom she had close relationships?

The same question could be asked of her stances on other projects in her district - the biolab proposed by Boston University, for example, which she backs and other elected officials in her district vehemently oppose.

Maybe her dealings on these and other development proposals - and she had a say in many of them - were on the up and up. Maybe she supported these projects for the jobs they'd bring into her district or for other perfectly good reasons.

But Wilkerson's alleged willingness to take bribes to subvert the legislative process in the interests of one developer in Roxbury has cast suspicion on her dealings with all of the others, too.

There are other mysteries.

What about that $6,000 in cash Wilkerson was carrying when she was arrested on Tuesday?

Was she really going to pay personal bills with it, as her lawyer claimed? What kind of bills does one pay with six grand in cash anyway?

While we're at it, what did the senator buy with the $23,500 in bribes she allegedly collected during the 18-month FBI sting? Was it all squandered on trips to Foxwoods like the one described in the affidavit?

Lastly, is the Boston Licensing Board really the easily influenced, backroom deal-making body Wilkerson allegedly describes in a conversation recorded by the FBI?

What qualifications do you need to be paid between $85,000 and $100,000 for a part-time job dispensing the coveted right to sell booze, beer, and wine? Do you have to be politically connected, or does anybody have a shot?

If it's the latter, where do I apply?

Yvonne Abraham is Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is Abraham@globe.com.

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