Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Fall

As I believe I have previously revealed, I live in the hip, funky and groovy borough of Jamaica Plain. That means Diane Wilkerson is my State Senator.

I have met Her Honorableness on a few occasions, most notably when I invited her to speak at a symposium I organized on state policy to eliminate health disparities. She was co-chair of a legislative commission on the subject, and a long-time champion of health equity. I later edited her remarks for publication.

And they were good remarks. Wilkerson is a good public speaker, among other talents. She was the first black woman (and still the last) ever elected to the Massachusetts State Senate. Her appearance on the political scene inspired people, and moved some people I know very deeply. She was out in front on important issues, including same sex marriage, even though it was divisive among her African-American constituents (although it was a solid winner in JP).

I am now happy to be able to say, however, that I stopped voting for her two years ago. There appeared to be something wrong with the woman. She held up the report of the disparities commission for nearly a year, for no apparent reason, while the coalition of which I am a member was working to advance legislation based on the commission report. She had repeated brushes with the law and ethical regulations, feuded absurdly with colleagues, and started to take uncharacteristic and disturbing stances on land use issues.

Well, those of you who live apart from the glorious light of the Hub of the Universe, our Shining City on a Hill, may have missed it, but the FBI led her away in handcuffs yesterday after videotaping her taking thousands of dollars in bribes. Why she's had difficulty paying her taxes and her mortgage when she apparently stuffs hundred dollar bills into her bra every time she eats lunch is unclear.

I have been struggling to figure out the meaning of this sad and sorry episode. It's possible that she's actually just nuts, but I think there is a lesson here about the corrupting influence of power. Wilkerson got in deeper and deeper because her constituents gave her a pass on the first couple of sins. They were loyal to her even though she did not seem fully loyal to them. And as it turns out, she wasn't loyal to them at all. We don't have democracy just because we go and vote every two years. It has to be much more than that.

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