Saturday, 2:15 PM
Wilkerson resigns a day after indictment
By Matt Viser, Jonathan Saltzman, Andrea Estes, and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
Embattled state Senator Dianne Wilkerson resigned today after 15 years on Beacon Hill, succumbing to pressure that has been mounting following her arrest three weeks ago in an undercover FBI corruption sting.
Senator Dianne Wilkerson
Wilkerson submitted a handwritten letter of resignation effective today that was delivered to the office of Senate President Therese Murray at 9:45 a.m.
In a dramatic speech on the floor of the state Senate, Murray said that Wilkerson made the right decision by resigning and allowing the "good work of the Senate" to continue as lawmakers "commit ourselves to ensuring the public trust."
"And though one person may cast a temporary shadow, we are too strong, too determined and too righteous as a collective body to allow any doubt to linger," Murray said, adding: "I don’t know if we will ever hear an apology from those who should offer one … I hope we do someday."
Wilkerson stepped out of an elevator on the third floor of the State House at 11:50 a.m. and walked quickly toward her office. With a wave of her hand, she fended off questions from reporters and disappeared behind her locked office door.
This afternoon a Wilkerson staffer issued a typed statement on her Senate letterhead: "This morning, November 19, a letter was hand delivered to Senate President Therese Murray advising of my resignation from the office of State Senator from the Second Suffolk District, effective today. There will be no further comments today on this matter."
Wilkerson's decision to step down came a day after she was indicted by a federal grand jury on eight counts of attempted extortion stemming from the undercover operation. The Roxbury Democrat is accused of accepting $23,500 in bribes to help secure a liquor license for a nightclub in her district and to push legislation paving the way for a Roxbury development.
Wilkerson's lawyer, Max D. Stern, declined to comment yesterday on the 12-page indictment. The bare-bones document added no new information about the charges, which were detailed in a 32-page FBI affidavit released by prosecutors the day of her arrest on Oct. 28.
In the fallout after her arrest, Wilkerson resisted pressure to step down. When her colleagues in the Senate passed on unanimous resolution on Oct. 30 asking her to resign immediately, Wilkerson rejected the notion because she said it was "unreasonable."
After losing her reelection bid, Wilkerson promised on Nov. 5 to resign "as soon as humanly and responsibly possible" but she took no concrete steps to leave. Calls for her to go increased last week after the abrupt resignation of state Senator J. James Marzilli, who has been indicted on charges of accosting four women in downtown Lowell.
On Tuesday, the grand jury's indictment ratcheted up the pressure another notch on Wilkerson. An ethics committee report was imminent, and the Senate was prepared to take potentially punitive action against Wilkerson as soon as tomorrow. Her colleagues could have voted to suspend her $1,400 weekly pay check or expel her from the Senate.
"There's a tremendous amount of relief," said Republican Senator Richard Tisei, the minority leader from Wakefield, in reaction to the resignation.
Added Republican Senator Robert Hedlund from Weymouth: "It's a little overdue, but the right thing to do."
Some criminal lawyers said today that Wilkerson likely considered the potential impact of her refusal to resign on the criminal case against her. If she is convicted, the lawyers explained, a prosecutor might argue at sentencing that her unwillingness to resign represented a final act of defiance.
But Edward P. Ryan Jr. a Fitchburg lawyer and former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, said he has defended public officials and political candidates accused of wrongdoing and recommended they resign for more pragmatic reasons.
"I tell them that you ought to get out of the public position or the limelight," he said. "It serves no purpose. It's a headline-generator. And in Senator Wilkerson's case, I guess it would be recognition of the inevitable."