By Paul Carter
Will Utah send 'WW' to Washington?
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Election year 2000 was when the letter "W" took on
new meaning in the nation's vocabulary to distinguish then-candidate George
W. Bush from his presidential father. If one current US House candidate from
Salt Lake City has his way, 2002 will be the year when a double dose of that
letter of the alphabet will be elected to go to Washington representing Utah.
Winston Wilkinson is presently a member of the Salt Lake City Council
representing areas of Sandy, West Jordan, South Jordan, and Taylorsville. 15
months in advance of election day 2002, Mr. Wilkinson is already going
door-to-door to introduce himself to constituents in the Salt Lake City
area. His goal is to stand out and have people recognize him from among a
list of Republicans who have expressed interest in challenging Democratic
incumbent Jim Matheson.
As "WW" says, "I'm unique. If I get on their radar screen, they'll remember
Mr. Wilkinson's comment, which might be considered self-aggrandizing from
any other candidate, is probably accurate in his own case. Someone who meets
him will not likely confuse him with the other Republicans he might face in
the House race.
Start his description as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints since 1980 and a Republican. Certainly nothing
high-profile for Utah candidate there. But almost everything after that in
Wilkinson's background and as a politician is singular among Utah candidates.
A democrat until the late 1970s, Mr. Wilkinson is an African-American who
was raised west of Washington DC as a Methodist. In 1970, he converted to
Islam and about that same time married his wife Gloria.
Ten years later, Winston Wilkinson attended a Republican Party meeting in
Maryland, where he met Dallas Merrell, who was recently a member of the
Second Quorum of the Seventy. In response to a question about religion,
Brother Merrell invited the Wilkinsons into the Merrell home to meet the
missionaries and about a year later Winston Wilkinson joined the Church.
As Mr. Wilkinson reviews his life experiences, he says that the community in
which he grew up, Cedar Heights Maryland, was so segregated that he didn't
know any white people at all by the time of his high school graduation. He
became aware of the civil rights movement once his family bought their first
television when he was 16 and it was at that age that he heard Martin Luther
King's call for non-violent activism to break down racial barriers.
Mr. Wilkinson recalls that he was also influenced by the defiant approach of
Malcolm X, saying, "I didn't practice that, but in terms of my beliefs and
philosophy, they coincided well with Malcolm's."
Winston Wilkinson served four years in the Navy in the early and mid '60s,
including duty as a member of the White House Honor Guard of President John
Kennedy. He carried the Alabama State flag in the inaugural parade of Lyndon
Johnson, during which a man tried to take the flag away from him. Winston
later learned that the man was then-Governor of Alabama George Wallace.
After the Navy, undergraduate work at Morgan State University was followed
by law school. Seeking employment in government, Wilkinson worked in
Maryland's Prince George's County and it was those years that saw Mr.
Wilkinson's transition from the idealogy of the Democratic Party to that of
the Republican Party.
In 1981, he became special assistant to the secretary of the US Department
of Education, hired by Clarence Thomas who today sits on the US Supreme
Court. In 1988, he was named as deputy director of the Office of Civil
Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services.
He was in private business until 1997 when he decided to move his family to
Utah. Now at age 56, he and his wife Gloria have four children and three
grandchildren. His youngest child is a senior in high school and Winston
feels that now is his time to seek greater political responsibilities.
A friend from Wilkinson's days in Prince George's County, Wayne Currey, is
"shocked" today to learn that his former colleague has switched parties,
joined the LDS church and moved to Utah. But Wilkinson's ongoing interest
and involvement in the political process is not surprising at all to Mr.
Currey, who is the County Executive of Prince George's County, as he
recounts: "He was in the vanguard of African-Americans working in the
democratic process back here" and exhibited a strong "commitment to progress."
Today, that commitment is expressed by Candidate Wilkinson in the brochure
he distributes as he goes door-to-door. Three topics are presented: school
choice, keeping Social Security solvent, and supporting President Bush's
targets for modest growth in government spending.
Describing himself as "an across-the-board Reagan Republican," he supports
strong families; is against abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or
danger to the life of the mother; free trade; and limited government.
Regarding affirmative action, the candidate states, "I believe there is a
role for affirmative action, but it is a diminishing role" due to the
"pretty much level playing field" that now exists in his view. Any remaining
racism that might still exist can be dealt with by the federal government.
When asked if he personally has ever experienced racism in Utah, his reply
is, "No. Nope. None. I've found it to be a great place to live." Still, "WW"
is working hard to move back to Washington.
A black Mormon Republican launches his run for Congress
Salt Lake Tribune 19Aug01 T2
By Jim Woolf: Salt Lake Tribune