It is inevitable that there will be a changing of the guard relative to representation for people of color at the State House. With the defeat of Dianne Wilkerson in the primary and her recent indictment, the communities of color could lose their most articulate and effective voice in the Legislature.
This changing of the guard could propel 5th Suffolk District representative Marie St. Fleur to be the most powerful legislator of color on Beacon Hill. This raises legitimate concerns of representation, given that St. Fleur has consistently been opposed to the will of her constituency.
When given the opportunity to support a qualified African American for governor of Massachusetts, she not only did not support him, but ran against him as Tom Reilly's candidate for Lt. Governor. Again, given the opportunity to support Barack Obama in an historic election, she chose Hillary Clinton.
When Felix Arroyo, the first and only city-wide Latino candidate ran for re-election, she chose to stay on the sidelines, helping to insure his defeat. In all of these cases, the people of her district overwhelmingly opposed her. It doesn't matter what color they are. It does matter what color they aren't.
Whether it is supporting MCAS as a graduation requirement, silence on the quality of life issues that impact our community, gutting the "Clean Elections Reform Law" that would increase representation among unrepresented people, not returning phone calls or simply slamming the door of minority empowerment behind her, Marie St. Fleur has been a ten-year disappointment.
Equally as disappointing as her performance on the issues is her poor performance as a legislator. Out of 160 legislative districts, St. Fleur has consistently ranked among the lowest number of votes to be re-elected. Her attendance for voting on legislation has been the worst among the 200 legislators. Imagine how many of us could keep our jobs if we missed 21 percent or one day a week from work?
Her meteoric rise into leadership has not been based on skill or experience, but simply her ability to say yes to House leadership and other leaders. Bottom line, Marie has willingly served as a minority figurehead to create the impression that communities of color have influence.
Only after one term in office, St. Fleur was appointed chair of the Massachusetts Black Legislative Caucus. Under her leadership, the Caucus's highest elected official quit, rendering the Caucus powerless and ineffective after years of being the minority voice of last resort. Her appointment to chair the Education Committee was surprising, given that her only experience in education was going to private school.
There is an endless list of why people in the 5th Suffolk District of Dorchester and Roxbury have lost their voice, and Marie is near the top.
We need leadership to attack the problems in our neighborhood at the root. We need representation that not only reflects the people's will, but also presents a vision and strategy to achieve that vision. We need leadership that is engaged and accountable.
We need leadership and a voice, but St. Fleur has only offered followership and silence.
St. Fleur defeated Roy Owens, a sticker candidate, on Nov. 4, but her victory should not be perceived as an endorsement of her policies or past performance. This term, St. Fleur should look to provide leadership to mitigate our youth violence, seek ways to generate jobs, serve her constituents better and join the fight in demanding CORI reform. Without a doubt, St. Fleur has the talent to represent the interest of the people her district. What is lacking, is her will to do so.
The writer, who lives on Meetinghouse Hill, was one of five candidates who ran for the then-vacant Fifth Suffolk state representative's seat in 1999, a special election contest that was won by Marie St. Fleur.