Seconds before his first public appearance of his first West Coast trip in his first presidential campaign, Michael S. Dukakis suddenly looked alarmed.
More than 300 Democrats had jammed the Seattle hotel ballroom last Tuesday. Another 150 or so packed the halls outside. The crowd surged forward, and hot TV lights blazed on, as Dukakis appeared at the door.
"God help us," he said softly, clearly taken aback at the early morning turnout.
Didn't Need Much Help
In the end, Dukakis didn't need much help. The little-known 53-year-old Democratic governor from Massachusetts drew applause and laughs for half an hour. He did it again from a balcony for the overflow crowd in the parking lot. Then he repeated the performance at a sold-out fund-raising breakfast down the hall.
Over the next three days, Dukakis continued to draw heavy crowds, money and press in Olympia, Portland, Santa Clara, Sacramento and Los Angeles. Some were curious party activists, desperately seeking a new leader after the Gary Hart debacle. Some, too, were Greek-Americans excitedly embracing this good-looking son of Greek immigrants.
And some--nine months before the first caucus vote in Iowa and 18 months before the 1988 election--were Democrats scrutinizing "the Duke," an earnest, innovative, three-term governor from a state that has gone from economic bust to boom.
What they heard was a call for competence, integrity and an activist government. Dukakis campaigns on two basic issues: creating "genuine economic opportunity for every citizen" through government programs with business and labor, and developing a "foreign policy that reflects basic American values."
Dukakis has no real experience in Washington or abroad, and his platform offers more platitudes than specifics. Critics say he takes more credit than he is due for the Bay State's boom.
In interviews last week, several voters said Dukakis sounded "parochial," and that he hadn't defined a "vision" so much as a management style. Few said they were inspired by his cerebral speeches.
"Well, he wasn't horrendous," said Jeff Smith, executive director of Washington state's Democratic Party. "He didn't trip on anything," agreed Karen Marchioro, state party chairman.
Not so in Iowa. Dukakis startled hard-hit soybean and corn farmers in February by suggesting they grow blueberries, flowers or Belgian endive to diversify their crops. "Yuppie agriculture," one official scoffed.
But Dukakis is learning, and he is suddenly a hot item in the presidential sweepstakes. He leads the polls in neighboring New Hampshire, home of the pivotal first-in-the nation primary. Nationwide, a Los Angeles Times Poll on May 10 found him leading the seven Democratic contenders with 12%, although nearly half of those polled were still undecided.
Who is Michael Stanley Dukakis, and why is he running for President? What has he done, and what does he want to do? And why is he drawing interest so early in the morning, and so early in the campaign?
"I'm a very uncomplicated guy," Dukakis said in the first of two interviews last week. "I love politics. I love public service. I love my family. That's who I am."
"There's nothing mystical or mysterious about Michael Dukakis," agreed Paul Brountas, a Boston lawyer and longtime friend. "What you see is what you get."
Most important, Dukakis says, he is the product of his Greek immigrant roots.
Dukakis says his father, Panos, arrived in Boston from Greece in 1913. He was 15, had $25 in his pocket, and didn't speak English. Eight years later, he was working his way through Harvard Medical School. He became Boston's first Greek-speaking obstetrician, a dedicated family doctor who delivered 3,000 babies and was on call 7 days a week. He died in 1979.
His mother, Euterpe, was the first Greek girl to attend college from Haverhill, a working-class Boston suburb. Today, she is 83 and lives in nearby Brookline, where Dukakis was born and raised. He and his family still live there, in a modest, two-story, two-family Victorian house with the governor's vegetable garden in the front yard.
Dukakis' ethnic background is critical to his campaign. "It's such an American story," he explained. "People respond to that. It certainly shaped a lot of what I believe and feel. People deserve to know that."
Dukakis' heritage also gives him a base of support. Greek-Americans are organizing in churches and clubs nationwide. They help fill his rallies, answer his phones, and pay his bills. He raised more than $125,000 Wednesday night alone, for example, from a party for 400 contributors at a Greek-American doctor's home in Santa Monica.
'Strong Political Animals'
"Greeks are rather strong political animals," said George Tsolakoglou, a Greek-born developer from Sacramento who has registered to vote so he can support Dukakis. "Politics are in our blood. And Greeks are giving him strong support, given his heritage."
Dukakis is also reaching out to another heritage. In 1963 he married another first generation American. Kitty Dukakis is Jewish, the daughter of an Irish-Hungarian mother and a Russian-born father, Harry Ellis Dickson, now a popular conductor for the Boston Pops.
"I'm a mongrel and my kids are certainly mongrels," Mrs. Dukakis, 50, joked in an interview at her Statehouse office in Boston.
The Dukakis family--including John, 28, Andrea, 22, and Kara, 18--celebrate both Jewish and Greek Orthodox holidays. "We have a mixture of what's best of both traditions," Mrs. Dukakis said.
A self-described "political person," Mrs. Dukakis is an executive board member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and is active in various arts, women's rights and refugee groups. She is an energetic campaigner. Son John, a former TV actor who has appeared in "Taxi" and "Knots Landing," recently set up his father's campaign office in Atlanta.
Ran Boston Marathon
As a youth, Dukakis won letters for track, tennis and basketball at Brookline High School. He ran in the Boston Marathon in 1951, finishing 57th. Today, he has flecks of gray in his thick black hair, but he is still trim and healthy at 180 pounds, thanks in part to tennis and frequent exercise.
Dukakis attended Swarthmore College near Philadelphia. He was everywhere: a newspaper editor, athlete, student council member. He hitchhiked to Miami and Mexico during vacations. He also cut hair for students during a boycott of local barbers who refused to cut blacks' hair.
Initially premed, Dukakis says he shifted to politics after almost flunking physics. "I got a charitable D minus," he recalled. But he won highest honors in political science when he was graduated in 1955.
Dukakis joined the Army after graduation and served in postwar Korea for 18 months. In 1958, he attended Harvard Law School, where he again won honors. His was a remarkable class.
Influenced by Politicians
"There were three sons of Greeks in our class," recalled Brountas. "Myself, Paul Sarbanes, and Mike Dukakis. I had visions of going back and being senator from Maine, my home. Paul said he wanted to be senator from Maryland, which, of course, he did. But Michael said he wanted to be governor. We asked why. He said you can do more as governor, and do it better. He had no desire to go to Washington."
Dukakis says two politicians influenced his early life. Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy "outraged me" and President John F. Kennedy "inspired me," he said. "They still do."
After a brief stint as a lawyer, Dukakis was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1962. He sponsored consumer protection, housing and environmental laws. He championed passage of the nation's first no-fault insurance law.
In 1970, Dukakis went for higher stakes. He ran for lieutenant governor and lost. But he won valuable TV exposure and experience by moderating a public television debate called "The Advocates." And in 1974, he ran for governor and easily beat Republican incumbent Francis W. Sargent.
But Dukakis quickly ran into trouble. He had given voters a "lead-pipe guarantee" not to raise taxes. Six months after election, facing a $500-million deficit, he did.
Dukakis also slashed welfare and human services, cut staff at state hospitals and chopped medical aid. He didn't spare himself. He reduced his own staff by half, sold the state limo, and even used Sargent's old stationery.
Dukakis won a reputation for integrity and intelligence. But he alienated businessmen, liberals, and state legislators with a cold, arrogant, even self-righteous style. In 1978, Dukakis lost his own party's primary to Ed King, a conservative Democrat who preached an anti-tax, anti-abortion, anti-busing campaign.
'Like Public Death'
The defeat was "like public death," said Mrs. Dukakis. "I was rejected by a state I love," he agreed. "It was very painful."
Dukakis says he learned a valuable lesson. "I think I'm more sensitive to others," he explained. "I know I'm a better listener. And I have no doubt I'm better at building coalitions."
"He has this image of being a technocrat," said Chris Edley Jr., a Harvard law professor who is now campaign issues director. "That's not Michael. He has a style that makes people feel included. He listens. . . . The ice water in his veins stuff is nonsense."
If Dukakis has changed, his reputation as a tightwad has not. He buys all his clothes at Filene's Basement, a store for the budget conscious, and drives a red 1981 Dodge Aires. He still sometimes commutes to the Statehouse by riding the Green Line public trolley. He says "accumulating wealth" isn't important to him.
'Very Delicate Subject'
"The kids and I tease him about it," said Mrs. Dukakis. "It's a very delicate subject." She quickly adds, however, that he is "very generous" to charity.
According to federal income tax returns released by his campaign, Dukakis and his wife reported cash contributions to charity last year of $3,732 from an adjusted gross income of $83,409. Most of that was his $75,000 salary. They paid $19,299 in tax. His accountant, Harris Coles, said Dukakis owns no property other than his Brookline home.
Once out of office, Dukakis lectured for four years at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. In 1982, he ran a bitter rematch against King. This time, Dukakis won. And last year, riding a wave of prosperity, he was reelected by a 69% landslide.
For the last five years, Dukakis has presided over what he touts as the "Massachusetts Miracle." Fueled by billions in defense spending, a growing high-tech economy, and a booming service industry, the state has one of the nation's lowest jobless rates--3.6% in 1986. More than 300,000 new jobs have been created, and 54,000 new businesses started.
Spreading the Wealth
Dukakis hopes his campaign can reap the benefit. He tells audiences that he has cut taxes five times in four years, gotten 30,000 families off welfare through the Employment and Training Choices program, turned a tax-amnesty and revenue enforcement program into a national model, and spread the wealth through regional development.
But critics say Dukakis claims too much credit. A study released last year by two Harvard scholars says his administration's initiatives "may have helped" sustain the economic revival, but that new state policies "were too limited and too late to be important explanations of the turnaround."
Dukakis bristles at the criticism. "I don't think there's any question that we've helped ensure that economic opportunity is as widespread as possible," he said.
Dukakis' campaign manager is John Sasso, a close aide and a skilled political operative who won his battle stripes as campaign manager for 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine A. Ferraro.
Sasso has crafted a campaign designed to ease voters' fears. For those disenchanted with Ronald Reagan, Dukakis is "engaged," "vigorous," and a "hands-on manager" who "believes in the rule of law and the Constitution," Sasso said. "Some of the things lacking in this Administration," he added.
For those concerned about Gary Hart-like questions of character, Dukakis tells audiences he is "blessed by a terrific wife and three wonderful kids." Mrs. Dukakis says her husband returns home from the Statehouse most nights at 6 to eat dinner with his family, and often walks the children to public school.
Dukakis says he "never contemplated" a presidential bid until January. One factor was the Iran- contra scandal. "I thought I could do a better job," he said. Another was a close look at the prospects of a "favorite son's" candidacy in neighboring New Hampshire.
On the campaign trail, he is easy-going, unflappable, and tries to remember not to wave his arms as he speaks. He will campaign in Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida this week. And he says he is having the time of his life.
"People ask me, 'Are you tired? Is this a grind?' " Dukakis said. "Are you kidding? My folks came over on the boat. And I'm running for President!"