Saturday, 2:15 PM
Wilkerson won't resign, despite Senate's request
(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
Senate President Therese Murray told reporters after the vote that Democratic Senator Dianne Wilkerson should resign today if she "values the integrity of the Senate." Wilkerson said she would not step down.
By Matt Viser, Globe Staff
The usually collegial state Senate todday shunned one of its own, unanimously passing an extraordinary resolution asking Democratic Senator Dianne Wilkerson to resign immediately following the allegations that she accepted eight bribes worth $23,500 in an FBI undercover operation.
She promptly declined, with her campaign issuing a statement tonight indicating that she has no intention of resigning and will defiantly continue her write-in campaign to save a seat she has held for 15 years.
‘‘They made their requests,’’ Boyce Slayman, her campaign manager, said in an interview. ‘‘And she respectfully declined to do it today.’’
Wilkerson later released a statement calling requests for her to resign ‘‘unreasonable.’’
‘‘Surely the members of the state Senate could not have believed that such a monumental decision would be made within a few hours,’’ she said. ‘‘A decision to leave this district without representation, even for 60 days, is one that cannot and should not be made in a matter of hours. Rest assured I am committed to do what is in the best interest of the residents of this district.’’
In the early afternoon, angry members of the Senate stripped Wilkerson of her committee chairmanship, removed her from all of her committee assignments, and began the first steps required to expel her from the chamber.
Before the vote, Wilkerson sent a diplomatic letter to Senate President Therese Murray saying, ‘‘I will respect whatever decision you make.’’
‘‘I apologize to you and the members for being drawn into the madness that has become my life,’’ Wilkerson wrote in the one-page letter on her Senate stationery.
While Wilkerson herself remained silent yesterday and declined interview requests, her Senate colleagues did anything but. And the senators who were specifically mentioned in the dramatic 32-page FBI affidavit against Wilkerson, and received grand jury subpoenas of their own this week, reacted the loudest.
Murray, whose only previous comment was a brief statement she read outside her office on Tuesday saying the charges were ‘‘serious’’ and that she ‘‘will trust the judicial process to take them seriously,’’ yesterday lashed out at Wilkerson on multiple fronts.
‘‘I think if she values the integrity of the Senate, if she values her colleagues' work, she’ll go’’ today, Murray said. ‘‘Do I look angry? Yes I am.’’
Federal agents charged Wilkerson on Tuesday with accepting the eight bribes from constituents and others with business before the state Senate. She allegedly took the $23,500 for helping to secure a liquor license and shepherding legislation that would pave the way for a towering Roxbury development.
Murray was mentioned in the affidavit as sitting in a private meeting with Wilkerson. She also received her own subpoena this week, and is prominently pointed out in subpoenas sent to other government offices, including one to the state’s technology division demanding that her emails be preserved.
Murray yesterday publicly and directly contradicted the account federal authorities outlined in an affidavit released on Tuesday. The 32-page document said that Murray was at a meeting on Aug. 16, 2007, when Wilkerson allegedly met with City Council President Maureen Feeney; Daniel Pokaski, chairman of the Boston Licensing Board; and Senator Michael Morrissey, a Quincy Democrat.
‘‘I was not at any meeting with Senator Wilkerson,’’ Murray said today as staffers attempted to usher her away. ‘‘Those are allegations.’’
When asked if there were any meetings she was a part of, she said, ‘‘No.’’
Her spokesman, David Falcone, later confirmed that she was referring to the Aug. 16, 2007, meeting referenced in the affidavit. Falcone would not say where she was that day, but said she had no events listed on her Senate office schedule. According to Senate minutes, Senator Jack Hart, a Boston Democrat, was presiding over the Senate instead of Murray.
The FBI and the US Attorney’s office would not comment on Murray’s contradiction yesterday, or provide any indication where their information came from.
Morrissey, who confirmed that he attended the meeting in the affidavit, would not say whether the Senate president was in attendance but said, ‘‘I would trust what she tells you.’’
Morrissey, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, is cochairman of the Consumer Protection Committee and is alleged to be among the politicians Wilkerson persuaded to help her secure a liquor license for a Roxbury nightclub.
Morrissey was one of several lawmakers whose records were subpoenaed in the FBI probe of Wilkerson. The subpoena, which went to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure and was obtained this week by the Globe, asks for all records reflecting Morrissey’s daily activities from May 15, 2007, through June 1, 2008.
Reading a 30-second statement yesterday, Morrissey offered a vociferous defense of his role in the case.
‘‘First, I nor any members of the committee had any idea what Dianne Wilkerson was about,’’ Morrissey said. ‘‘Second, anything we did was by the book, and I’ll stand by those actions at any time.’’
He then declined to take any questions from reporters.
A source spotted Wilkerson in a car on Bowdoin Street — outside the State House near Fill-a-Buster, where she allegedly took some of the bribes — at 10:30 a.m., but she did not enter the building. The Roxbury lawmaker was not present when her colleagues took the vote asking her to resign, which occurred after a two-hour caucus behind closed doors.
In the austere Senate chambers, where Wilkerson had fought for gay marriage and social justice, her colleagues read public resolutions that went over her past transgressions in every detail, including her failure to pay income taxes and violations of campaign finance laws.
When it came time to vote to ask her to resign, nearly 40 senators let out a hearty, ‘‘Aye!’’
Because they were meeting in an informal session, it would have taken only a single senator to object.
In addition to asking Wilkerson to resign, the Senate also passed a resolution asking the Senate Committee on Ethics and Rules to investigate her. If she does not resign, that investigation could lead to expelling her from the Senate. Murray said the committee would finish its work ‘‘as soon as possible,’’ but would not provide a timeline and gave no indication that it would complete the investigation by Tuesday’s election.
‘‘People in the Senate are disgusted,’’ Senator Brian Joyce, a Milton Democrat, said after the vote. ‘‘We’ve asked her to resign and begun the process to expel her. Enough’s enough.’’
‘‘There’s been a shadow cast on the entire body,’’ said Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, who said the Republicans are considering filing ethics reform legislation. ‘‘...Not only the actions that were taken by Senator Wilkerson that caused this problem but also that it’s reflected so badly on the entire Senate and the institution.’’
While Wilkerson’s seat in the Senate was the focus yesterday, underlying the circus-like scene at the State House was an ongoing federal investigation that could bring others into the picture. Subpoenas went out this week to numerous people and agencies, including Murray, Feeney, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, and WinnCompanies, a development firm owned by Arthur Winn, a longtime political benefactor of Wilkerson’s.
Aside from Wilkerson, no one has been accused of wrongdoing, but the FBI has not ruled out further investigations.
It is highly unusual for a lawmaker to be expelled from a legislative body before they have been convicted of a crime. No one has been ousted from the state Senate for corruption since the 1970s, when two members were convicted of extortion for accepting kickbacks from a construction firm building the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
Wilkerson, who was first elected in 1992, was once a rising star in the Democratic Party. But her career has been marred by numerous legal troubles. In 1997, she was convicted of willfully failing to file federal income tax returns. In 1998 and this year, she entered into disposition agreements with state officials related to campaign finance law violations. And she is currently in danger of losing her license to practice law for allegedly lying under oath at a 2005 court hearing in a homicide case.
Frank Phillips and Andrew Ryan of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.