Adrian Walker

There's grace in goodbye

By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / October 31, 2008

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Dianne Wilkerson has now become a national punch line.

In his monologue on "The Tonight Show" Wednesday night, Jay Leno showed America a picture of the Roxbury Democrat allegedly stuffing money up her shirt.

"Isn't equality a wonderful thing?" he asked, "Women politicians are just as sleazy as men."

Now we know what it takes for a mere state senator to make it onto Leno's radar screen.

It's a little less funny, apparently, if you are a member of the Massachusetts Senate. Wilkerson's colleagues asked her to resign yesterday by a unanimous vote. And there was very little levity outside the Senate chambers yesterday. As one senator said of Wilkerson's alleged offenses: "To put it in Catholic terms, this isn't a venial sin. It's a mortal sin."

Wilkerson said she has no intention of leaving voluntarily. She will deny, blame others, and stonewall until someone turns out the lights. She is not about to let others tell her what to do. The Republican US attorney, her friends say, is using her to undermine Democrats.

"This just underscores what people already think of us, that we're crooked," Senator Brian Joyce of Milton said. "This reflects on us, our predecessors, and our successors."

The Senate has made noises about expulsion, which does not necessarily require conviction, if Wilkerson declines to go on her own. But Wilkerson's supporters - yes, she still has some - note that in the past senators have been booted only after being convicted of crimes. Senators have been presumed innocent until proven guilty and not necessarily removed even after that.

Thank goodness we are just a few days from an election. Wilkerson, who is running as a write-in candidate, is facing a rematch against Sonia Chang-Diaz, who beat her, narrowly, in the Democratic primary a few weeks ago. The rematch might not be nearly as close. Being charged with bribery has a way of suppressing a candidate's vote, even if Wilkerson has managed to convince herself otherwise.

It's hard to understand why Wilkerson, who has so much else on her plate, is fighting so desperately to keep her Senate seat. The announcement Wednesday that she would forge ahead with her campaign was shocking. Does she really think her constituents haven't heard she's accused of taking bribes?

There is no glee or satisfaction in seeing the demise of such a talented person. She has been, in many ways, an effective senator. But she seems incapable of grasping that all of that pales in comparison to selling your office, and the loyalists who buy into her conspiracy theories are only aiding her in ignoring reality.

Reality being this: It is time to go.

I thought the legislators I talked to yesterday would be saddened by the turn that events have taken for their longtime colleague. They aren't - they're furious, embarrassed, and tired of dealing with her. It isn't just the charges that have swung public opinion so emphatically against her; it's the pictures and the persuasive narrative that have silenced her supporters. Senate President Therese Murray was an impassioned defender of Wilkerson as recently as early September. Is she defending her now? No.

Wilkerson's trademark has always been her willingness to forge ahead, however difficult that might be for her. Obviously, that quality has served her well. This is one situation, though, in which sheer grit is not going to be enough.

What she needs to summon now is not toughness, but grace, the kind that will allow her to put the public interest ahead of her own. She has always maintained that her service is not about her, but her constituents. There is only one way left to prove that, which is to accept the utter demise of her effectiveness and credibility, and to leave the seat in better hands.

There is one gracious path left, and I wish she would take it.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at