By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The other shoe

Dianne Wilkerson follow-ups in the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald today focus on the possibility that more public officials will be sucked into the mess created by her alleged bribe-taking and spectacular arrest. Given the number of officials with whom Wilkerson interacted, there’s no doubt the feds are going to be talking with many, many people.

In the Herald, Laurel Sweet and Hillary Chabot are pretty explicit about the possibility that investigators will try to flip Wilkerson. In the Globe, Matt Viser reports on the blizzard of subpoenas demanding records from officials such as Boston Mayor Tom Menino, Boston City Council president Maureen Feeney, City Councilor Chuck Turner, Massachusetts Senate president Therese Murray and state Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, among others.

“This is by no means a suggestion that anyone else is involved in shaking down cash or paying it,” writes the Outraged Liberal. “It is a simple statement that some other big names … could very well get dragged into what is likely an ongoing Wilkerson investigation.”

Wilkerson’s accusation that the timing of her arrest was politically motivated is interesting because (a) it probably was, but (b) what was U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan supposed to do? If he had sat on this until after the election, and Wilkerson had won re-election against Democratic primary winner Sonia Chang-Diaz, that would have been politically motivated, too — and the public would be justifiably outraged if all this had come out once Wilkerson had been safely returned to the Senate.

More interesting still is what effect the Wilkerson affair will have on Question 1, the ballot measure that would repeal the state’s income tax. Wilkerson alone probably wouldn’t make a difference — as the Globe’s Scot Lehigh observes, Wilkerson was a train wreck years ago, and it’s sickening that it took so long to clear her off the tracks.

But if any of her high-profile friends emerges as a player rather than a victim, that would be a mighty powerful argument for Question 1. Never mind that we’re the ones who would suffer from catastrophic cuts in education, police, public works and on and on. This isn’t about logic — it’s about anger.

Photo of Wilkerson at the 2008 Boston Gay Pride Parade (cc) by Paul Keleher and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. Peter Porcupine

    DK – Question 2 is about pot. Her effect on that might be interesting [ :~) ] but Question One is income tax repeal.I agree with your conclusion, though. While her Senate salary and stipends are negligible in the overall scheme of the budget, she is a power symbol and symptom of corrupt state beahvior.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    D’oh! Now fixed. Thanks.

  3. bob gardner

    I think it’s more than a possibility that this scandal will spread. First there’s the licensing board which apparently granted the liquor license in return for the passage of a bill increasing their salaries. Second, there’s the FBI itself. If there has been a bigger trainwreck than Diane Wilkerson these last few years, it’s been the Boston office of the FBI. There are no photos of FBI agents stuffing Bulger-gang bribes into their clothing, but there was testimony just in the last couple weeks that they took bribes, and these agents are still collecting their pensions. Why would anyone assume that this investigation was completely on the up and up–that every politician was treated the same–that nobody was tipped off, for example? Wilkerson’s constituents who support her despite her record are no more naive or credulous than columnists who accept everything the FBI tells them.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Bob: I accept very little that the FBI tells us. But pictures matter. A lot.

  5. James O'Brien

    The third complaint option, in connection with timing, coming from Wilkerson supporters, is that Sullivan should have announced the charges earlier than a week out from Nov. 4.Which again raises the specter of politics. The whole notion of timing around an election can’t escape this … before or after, the prosecutor is screwed.Should the prosecutor make an announcement at any time other than when he/she is satisfied the strongest case has been assembled? Does anyone really believe that if this had come out in June or July — or even in January — that the situation would be resolved by November? Most complicated court proceedings require something like 18-24 months to play out.Angry people will use either circumstance — before or after timing — as leverage to argue their candidate is treated unfairly.

  6. O'Reilly

    Thank you for the excellent recap.You touch on the issue but my curiosity is not yet satisfied. The DOJ had a policy of not initiating indictments in the months leading up to an election to avoid the appearance of politicizing law enforcement (,which seems to have been an issue at the heart of the US Attorney scandal currently under special counsel investigation.) Have those policies changed or is this an exception under the same (old) rules. Under the old rules, the strength of the evidence against Wilkerson would not have been a deciding factor in the timing of the criminal complaint.

  7. James O'Brien

    I don’t know if there’s an actual policy about the timing of elections and indictments. And the US Attorney investigation is multifaceted enough that I don’t think anyone would wisely select it yet as a test-case or potential precedent for any one issue. Dan’s point figures into this, here. If Sullivan waited until after the election, and Wilkerson were again voted into office … wouldn’t the political-prosecution scenario seem all the more acute? “Prosecutor wages post-write-in victory war on controversial Senator,” or something like that. It’s a real rock and a hard place.

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