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Dianne Wilkerson takes step toward run for her former state Senate seat

Dianne WilkersonSean Proctor/Globe Staff/file

Dianne Wilkerson, an activist and former state senator who served a federal prison sentence for a bribery conviction, is moving toward seeking her old seat.

Wilkerson pulled nomination papers earlier this month to run for the state Senate seat she held for more than 15 years, according to the secretary of state’s office. The decision does not guarantee she is running, but is a formal step any potential candidate must take ahead of submitting enough signatures next month in order to qualify the ballot.

Efforts to reach Wilkerson were not successful.

Wilkerson, once the highest-ranking Black woman in state government, served 2 1/2 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to eight counts of attempted extortion for taking $23,500 in bribes, including 10 $100 bills she stuffed into her bra as the scene was recorded by the FBI.

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The indictment helped bring an end to a 15-year political career that included several bouts of controversy. She served six months of home confinement for tax evasion in the 1990s, followed by 30 days in a halfway house for violating the terms of the sentence. She also paid significant fines for campaign violations on two separate occasions, before her indictment on bribery charges in 2008 and conviction three years later.

Since her release, she has emerged as an advocate in Boston, helping co-lead the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition, a group that demanded equity in testing and vaccine distribution, and was a cofounder of WAKANDA II, an initiative designed to coalesce Black support behind a Black mayoral candidate during last year’s race.

Wilkerson last fall was also among activists calling for a Senate district that would unite Boston’s Black neighborhoods, in order to help ensure they elect a representative who will better advocate for their needs on Beacon Hill.

After her release, she told the Globe in 2014 that she owns both of her records — the criminal and the legislative — noting the irony of how they intersected wasn’t lost on her. For years, she worked on behalf of men and women with criminal records who needed access to jobs, housing, and education.

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“Little did I know I would be talking about myself,” she said at the time. “I am now among the legions of what they call ex-offenders, but I am one with a plan.”

Wilkerson would enter a crowded primary for the Second Suffolk seat, which covers several Boston neighborhoods, including Dorchester, Mattapan, and Jamaica Plain. The seat opened last year after state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz — who defeated Wilkerson in a heated 2008 Democratic primary — opted to run for governor.

State Representatives Liz Miranda and Nika C. Elugardo, and the Rev. Miniard Culpepper, a senior pastor at Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Dorchester, have already announced their campaigns.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.