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Socialist Leonard makes run for Second Suffolk seat

Talia Whyte | 10/22/2008, 4:53 a.m.
William Leonard (right), the Socialist Workers Party’s candidate in the hotly contested race for the Second Suffolk District seat in the state Senate, speaks with an attendee at the Oct. 11 anti-war rally on Boston Common. The battle between incumbent state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and Democratic primary winner Sonia Chang-Díaz has dominated headlines, but Leonard says he has made inroads with working-class district constituents eager for a senator that stands up for workers. Talia Whyte

Believe it or not, incumbent state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and Democratic primary winner Sonia Chang-Díaz are not the only two contenders vying for the state Senate’s hotly contested Second Suffolk District seat.

William Leonard, the Socialist Workers Party’s candidate in the race, has managed to escape mention in most media reports about the high-profile battle — this despite the fact that, unlike Wilkerson, his name will actually appear on the ballot on Nov. 4.

While he might not have the highest public profile, the Roxbury resident says he is making an impact with Second Suffolk residents by being a representative of working people.

“I am running because I want to put forward a working-class alternative to the agendas of Democrats and Republicans,” said Leonard. “We have seen that politicians aren’t working on behalf of the people on issues like housing, homelessness and employment.”

Because Chang-Díaz and Wilkerson are Democrats, Leonard said he assumes that his opponents support the roughly $1 trillion in bailout packages approved by Congress for faltering banks and investment firms, which he said work against the interests of working people. Messages left with the campaigns of Chang-Díaz and Wilkerson were not returned.

He said that during a recent campaign stop in Dudley Square, he was happy to see so many people who wanted to talk with him about their economic woes and other important issues, rather than the ongoing squabbling between Chang-Díaz and Wilkerson.

Putting the priorities of working and disadvantaged people first has long been a hallmark of Leonard’s life.

Originally from Iowa, for the last 20 years Leonard has been a production worker in the meat industry — he currently works for Roxbury meat packer William and Company. He came to Boston 12 years ago and got involved with the local Socialist Workers Party chapter. Three years ago, he worked for Chelsea-based Kayem Foods when employees there tried to improve workplace conditions and receive recognition as a chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

Not surprisingly, strengthening unions is a critical issue for Leonard.

“If elected, one of the first issues I would work on is to rebuild our unions,” he said. “The bosses have too much control over our lives. The bailout will only protect them and not the workers.”

The fight for immigrants’ rights is also near the top of Leonard’s agenda. He supports the immediate legalization of all undocumented migrants, as well as an end to raids and deportations.

Leonard also said that international issues, like the ongoing war on terror, have a deep impact on many here at home. He supports the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, advocates ending the U.S. embargo on Cuba and has called for the immediate disbursement of U.S. government aid to victims of the recent spate of hurricanes and tropical storms in Haiti.

Leonard has also made his voice heard on local issues. As recently as June, he addressed a Boston City Council hearing to share his opposition to the controversial Safe Homes Initiative, a “consent-to-search” program in which Boston police officials ask parents in high-crime neighborhoods to allow detectives to enter their homes without a warrant to search for weapons in children’s bedrooms. He also supports reform of the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) law.

“Residents in our community shouldn’t be treated like criminals,” he said. “The police searches are unconstitutional, and people shouldn’t be held accountable for a crime forever.”

Leonard was more circumspect when asked to share his stance on two highly publicized measures that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot: Question 1, which would end the state income tax, and Question 2, which would replace the criminal penalty for possessing up to 1 ounce of marijuana with a $100 fine. He said he has not taken a position on Question 1, but expressed support for a graduated tax system, and that while he hasn’t fully researched Question 2, but is “against victimless crimes.”

While coverage of the Second Suffolk contest continues to focus on the intra-party battle between Wilkerson and Chang-Díaz, Leonard said he will keep pushing on, bringing his simple, strong message to district voters.

“It’s time for someone to stand up for working people,” he said.