Tito Jackson won a resounding victory today in a special election for the Boston City Council, ushering in a new era for a district plagued by political scandals in the heart of Boston's black community.
Jackson will take the seat held for more than a decade by Chuck Turner, the dedicated but combative community organizer convicted of accepting a $1,000 bribe and thrown out of office in December. Turner is due to report to federal prison on March 25 -- the first day Jackson will be eligible to take the oath of office.
The 35-year-old political operative captured 82 percent of the vote and easily defeated Cornell Mills for the seat representing District 7, which includes Roxbury, Lower Roxbury, and parts of the Fenway, the South End, and Dorchester. Jackson, an unfailing optimist who bought his childhood home on Schuyler Street from his parents, addressed a cheering crowd of supporters last night at Biff's Lounge in Grove Hall.
"I'm just feeling really glad that people are buying into our vision of economic development and jobs and how to rejuvenate our community and are looking forward, not backward," Jackson said tonight. "There's no question that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, but this is a time for moving forward."
Mills is the 36-year-old son of former state Senator Dianne Wilkerson, who is currently serving 3 1/2 years in federal prison for pocketing $23,500 in bribes in the same corruption sting that ensnared Turner. Mills waited tonight for returns at his campaign headquarters on Blue Hill Avenue, but could not be reached for comment.
The results took no one by surprise: Jackson won 67 percent of the vote in the preliminary election a month ago. Mills squeaked into the final with just 9 percent, beating the third-place finisher by only 13 votes.
Jackson had the overwhelming support of labor unions and the broad grassroots network he built as the political director for Governor Deval Patrick's successful re-election campaign last fall. He had the support of big-name backers, from the governor's wife, Diane Patrick, to Turner, who remained popular in the district despite his downfall.
That support helped Jackson raise more than $107,000 for the election, his campaign said. Mills had mustered just over $4,500 through the end of February, according to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
Jackson's campaign patrolled the district with a slick Chevy S10 pickup truck outfitted with 4-foot by 6-foot "Vote Tito" billboards that light up at night. On top of the truck, another three-sided sign rotated with the help of a battery-powered motor. The Mills campaign had a green van with red signs tied to the side urging residents to vote for Cornell.
Both candidates promised to address the challenges that have plagued the district for decades: economic development, job creation, public safety, and improving schools. But Jackson's message seemed to resonate more with residents.
"I voted for Tito Jackson," said Gwendolyn McCoy, a 45-year-old Grove Hall resident. "I think he has enough of a network to help overcome the district's problems. I know he's hungry to be involved. I think we need that right now."
Adopted at 2 months old, Jackson was raised in Grove Hall by his mother, Rosa, and activist father, Herb Kwaku Zulu Jackson. Zulu Jackson worked with Turner as a community organizer long before his election to the City Council in 1999.
On the campaign trail, Jackson touted his stint in the state's economic development office, telling voters he helped bring 2,500 new jobs to the state working for the Patrick administration. He also highlighted the broad grassroots network he developed on Patrick's campaign, promising to put his connections to use for the district. The Mills campaign tried to turn those connections into a liability, painting Jackson as a puppet beholden to campaign donors who lived outside the district.
Today outside one of the district's largest polling places at the Higginson/Lewis K-8 School in Roxbury, Dwayne Gumbs campaigned for Mills, trying to steer voters toward his candidate.
"I feel there could've been much better turnout," said Gumbs, who lives in Mattapan.
The special election meant that just one race was on the ballot and it was for City Council, lacking a mayor, governor, or president at the top of the ticket.
"I've never been involved in a single councilman race," said Eric Streiff, as he handed out Jackson fliers to passersby near Washington Manor in the South End. "Most people go out to vote for more than one person."
Turnout increased slightly to 8 percent from the preliminary election in February, when just 7 percent of registered voters cast ballots. But many of the 41,000 registered voters did not bother in a district that had almost 22,000 head to the polls in 2008 when Barack Obama won the presidency.
"I can understand it," Debra Blackman said of the low turnout as she emerged from the Cardinal Medeiros Manor in Dorchester, and flattened her "I voted" sticker against her coat. "People are despondent right now, and they feel like no matter who they vote for, things won't get better."
Globe correspondents Cara Bayles and Matt Rocheleau contributed to this report.