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Keller @ Large: Dianne Wilkerson Working On Political Comeback

BOSTON (CBS) - In the 1990s and early 2000s she was the rising star of Boston's Black leadership, destined, some thought, to become the city's first Black mayor. She was the first Black woman to be a partner in a major Boston law firm, winning election to the state senate in 1992.

Then came Dianne Wilkerson's downfall, a slow-motion collapse over more than a decade encompassing a conviction for failing to file income taxes, several campaign finance violations, and the climax, an indictment and guilty plea to multiple bribery charges.

After serving time in prison, Wilkerson has in recent years resumed her civic and political activism. And with just days to go until the filing deadline, she has pulled nomination papers to regain her old senate seat, left open by the gubernatorial bid of Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz.

But if she can gather the signatures in time, Wilkerson will find multiple qualified challengers who've been running for months.

"I have a lot of respect for much of what she's done in the community," says State Rep. Liz Miranda.

"I believe that everyone has a right to run," says Rev. Miniard Culpepper, former regional counsel for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"I think it's exciting," says State Rep. Nika Elugardo.

Twelfth Street Baptist Church Deacon James Grant has also pulled papers.

Wilkerson didn't respond to WBZ-TV's interview request.

But while these candidates all welcomed Wilkerson's return, they also served notice there will be no deferring to the past.

"I am the housing candidate, and I will be the housing senator," says Culpepper. "I am the only candidate who has the experience and this record of building affordable housing in the district. I have fought and I have won."

"I've been part of this community my entire life," says Miranda. "I've been working 20 years, neighbor to neighbor, block to block, turning talk into action, and in the three years I've been in the State House I've been able to deliver on all the issues we care about."

"We're similar around Black power, around reparations, so it will really come down to what kind of leadership style you want to see," says Elugardo. "Somebody that's tough and a fighter and is able to compromise and get things done, not by bullying, not by picking the low-hanging fruit, but by taking on intractable problems."

So, will Wilkerson's past be a problem if she does run?

Some voters won't like it, of course. But I bet many more believe in redemption and second chances. Her bigger problem may be the competition from well-qualified competitors who are making it clear they're focused on the future, not the past.

Not to mention her late start organizing.

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