Jessenia Castillo recalled how Wilkerson helped her relocate to Boston from her Brockton home, where Castillo says she ducked gunfire in an apparent case of witness intimidation. Castillo said Wilkerson used her own funds to house her in a local hotel while the senator’s staff found her a shelter.
“Regardless of everything, you will always be my senator,” Castillo said.
Wilkerson lost to Chang-Diaz by just 228 votes in the Sept. 16 primary. She won every precinct in the Second Suffolk District with a majority of black, Latino and Asian voters. Chang-Diaz won every precinct in the district with a white majority.
Wilkerson’s primary loss has some activists in Boston’s communities of color fearing for the district’s future.
“This is much bigger than Dianne,” said political activist Bob Marshall. “This is about the community’s ability to choose who its leaders are. The district is split along race and class lines. Dianne won the majority of blacks, Latinos and Asians. Sonia won the wine-and-brie crowd.”
As Marshall pointed out, the race pitted voters of color against their sometime allies in the white liberal community.
The Second Suffolk District is 45 percent white, 25 percent black, 15 percent Latino and 8 percent Asian, according to a Wilkerson consultant. While the majority of district residents of voting age are people of color, whites in the district still have higher voter registration rates. And on Sept. 16, they had higher turnout.
Take Ward 19, Precinct 2, for example. In that precinct, which is in Jamaica Plain’s Moss Hill neighborhood and is 89 percent white, of the 543 voters who turned out, 122 voted for Wilkerson while 400 went for Chang-Diaz. The 278-vote difference in that precinct alone is greater than Chang-Diaz’s 228-vote margin of victory.
In the November general election, Obama’s presence on the ticket will likely boost turnout in communities of color. But it will likely do the same for white voters in Back Bay and the South End.
Activists at Tuesday’s rally expressed confidence that Wilkerson could win a sticker campaign, but said it will be difficult.
“There are enough votes and she’s done it before, so there’s not a learning curve for the community,” said political consultant Louis Elisa, referring to Wilkerson’s 2006 head-to-head victory against Chang-Diaz when both ran on stickers.
Lydia Lowe, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association, said voters in Chinatown would likely support Wilkerson again in November, but noted that navigating the sticker process could be a challenge for voters who don’t read English.
“All the community activists I’ve spoken with think Dianne should run on stickers,” she said. “It’s going to be different in Chinatown, though. It’s technically different because we don’t have a truly bilingual ballot.”
At Tuesday’s rally, Wilkerson said she had heard from hundreds of constituents who visited her office, called her on the phone, sent e-mails and left voice mail messages urging her to run on stickers before she made her decision. She called on those supporters to help her.
“I am ready,” she said. “You have told me in every language spoken in this room that you are ready, too. This won’t work if you don’t work.”
Despite an organization packed with some of the most seasoned campaign veterans in Boston’s black and Latino communities, longtime incumbent Dianne Wilkerson lost the Second Suffolk District seat in the state Senate to challenger Sonia Chang-Diaz, falling short in the state Democratic primary election by just over 200 votes. More »
The Web site of the city's Election Department includes unofficial vote tallies from Tuesday's state primary election races, including the surprising result in the Second Suffolk District. More »
Throughout the debate at English High School in Jamaica Plain, state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and Sonia Chang-Diaz did not present different positions on many issues, but rather, different approaches to dealing with them. More »