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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tip of the iceberg?

The arrest of Dianne Wilkerson on charges she took bribes to arrange for liquor licenses in her Second Suffolk Senate district may well turn out to be simply the tip of a very large iceberg.

There is certainly a lot of head-scratching over why a seasoned politician would jeopardize her career over $23,500 in bribes -- no matter how bleak her personal finances may be. Follow up reporting in the Globe and the Herald offer two suggestions of what else may be going on.

One is the case of Parcel 8 in Roxbury, a vacant lot along Melnea Cass Boulevard lot that has been a field of dreams for developers. A major project for her district, the implicit deal alleged by prosecutors is that Wilkerson would help a local team obtain the land in a non-bid process. In turn, they would work with a preferred Atlanta developer.

But it's the second project -- mentioned as an 'oh by the way' in a story about Wilkerson's intention to stay in the race against Sonia Chang-Diaz -- that has eye-popping potential.
Yet even as she sought to salvage her political career, the investigation into her activities blossomed into a much broader investigation as federal authorities blanketed the State House and City Hall with subpoenas yesterday. Agents also delivered a subpoena to the developers of Columbus Center, a major project Wilkerson supported.
Columbus Center. A massive $800 million hotel, residential and retail project that has started and stalled along Columbus Avenue over the Mass. Pike. Why is it stalled? Money. The inability to raise capital in chicken-choking economy. The solution sought by developers? State dollars.

And this is where it could get really interesting.

The Patrick administration initially approved $10 million in economic development grants, then rescinded them. Leading the push to stop the flow of state dollars was House Speaker Sal DiMasi, who labeled the idea "a misuse of taxpayer dollars."

When last we looked in July, developer Arthur Winn looking for help in pleading his case. He was meeting with Wilkerson. And one of the project's major supporters -- even in the face of neighborhood opposition is Tom Menino.

This is by no means a suggestion that anyone else is involved in shaking down cash or paying it. It is a simple statement that some other big names besides that of Senate President Therese Murray and City Council President Maureen Feeney could very well get dragged into what is likely an ongoing Wilkerson investigation.

Especially if the feds think they could get Wilkerson to start talking in exchange for a plea deal.

Fasten your seatbelts.

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