An Enigma : For Dukakis, Key Is Voter Perception
What you see is what you get.
One hears that over and over about Michael S. Dukakis, the 54-year-old three-term Massachusetts governor who would be President.
What you see is an enigma. He presents strong character and unusual ability. But there are conflicts. There are contradictions. There are questions.
He is an intellect, a cool technocrat who devours inch-thick briefing books and has studied six languages. The man dubbed “Big Chief Brain in Face” in his high school yearbook reads no novels. Instead, he studied “Swedish Land Use Planning” on a recent beach vacation.
Devoted to Family
He is devoted to his wife and three children, happy to cook a hearty Greek stew or pluck a fresh pepper from his front-yard garden. He extols his immigrant parents but did not tout them in a campaign until he decided to run for President.
He is strait-laced and frugal. He is so honest that he reported $23 on his tax return for using a state car on a personal errand. So thrifty he complained that he did not need the date on his digital watch, just the time. So practical he returned an aide’s gift, an expensive tuxedo shirt, because it was not wash-and-wear.
He is intensely disciplined. He rarely shouts in anger or laughs in joy. But he seems to cry often: at least three times in public and more in private, since announcing his bid for President.
He is a dedicated public servant, a liberal reformer who preaches clean, efficient government. But he has ducked several critical issues, including school integration, raising taxes and cleanup of Boston Harbor, the nation’s most polluted.
He is an unpretentious man with a firm moral compass. His integrity is unquestioned. But he does not like to admit mistakes. And he can be stubborn, arrogant and insensitive to even his closest friends.
Speeches Lack Fire
He is running for President as a caring, can-do manager. He has the Democrats’ best-financed and best-organized campaign. But his speeches often lack fire. He exaggerates his role in his state’s economic boom and the likely impact of his plan to cut the national deficit.
“He’s difficult to define,” says Beryl W. Cohen, who has known him since high school. “He’s unto himself. He’s had a very public career. But nobody gets close to him. He’s a different brand of politician than you’ve seen before.”
What you see is what you get. The real question is whether voters will see what they want in Michael S. Dukakis.
“ Monos mou ,” he insisted as a baby. “By myself.”
“It was his first phrase, after mommy and daddy,” recalls his 84-year-old mother, Euterpe. “He didn’t want any help. He was very confident.”
Young Michael tied his own shoes. At 3, he recited all of “ ‘Twas the Night before Christmas.” Recalls cousin Dr. Stratton Sterghos: “I read the Hardy Boys. Michael read the life of Napoleon.”
In the Edith C. Baker school, teachers shook their heads. “He was the brightest student I had,” recalls Margaret Hafferty, his long-retired sixth-grade teacher. “There wasn’t any question.”
Even so, she once gave him a C on a reading comprehension test. Shaken, the serious young scholar demanded an explanation. “He was very concerned,” Hafferty says. “He’d never gotten anything but straight A’s. . . . He made it his business to find out what happened. Another child would have let it go.”
But other children did not have standards set by Panos and Euterpe Dukakis.
At 15, Panos had come to Massachusetts from Adramit, a Greek market town in Turkey. Studying English at night, he began sweeping floors in a woolens mill. Eight years later, Panos walked into the dean’s office at Harvard Medical School. “You won’t fit in here,” the dean said. “I should go here,” Panos insisted, he later told friends. The telegram took several days: He had talked his way into Harvard.
Euterpe too was sharp, strong and determined. She was the first Greek girl to get beyond high school in working-class Haverhill outside Boston and the first to graduate from Bates College in Maine.
Dr. Dukakis and Euterpe, then a schoolteacher, married in 1929. They paid cash for their small row house in Brookline, a well-to-do suburb of Boston. “ Economia ,” Panos would say. Save it. Be frugal. Don’t spend what you don’t have.
Euterpe bristles now about her son’s reputation as a tightwad. “They call him stingy, which is ridiculous,” she says tersely. “Does it mean he’s stingy because he doesn’t go to Brooks Brothers? He’s not a model. Why should he?”
Their life was austere but hardly poor. Dr. Dukakis was a successful obstetrician, attending to Greeks across the city. He worked seven days a week. He presided in a dark suit over a Greek supper promptly at 5 each night, then returned to his office.
Panos was an Old World patriarch, a somber, stern, imposing man. He showed little emotion or affection. He frightened some of Michael’s friends, and some say he frightened Michael as well. Euterpe voted Democrat but Panos was a conservative Republican until Michael ran for office.
“He was very severe, honest, upright but unbending,” says Dukakis’ father-in-law, retired Boston Pops associate conductor Harry Ellis Dickson. “There was a discipline about him. He’d never utter an obscene word or smoke a cigarette.”
Some of Michael’s oldest friends say the description applies to Panos’ son as well.
“You often wonder about Michael,” says Sterghos, who shared chicken pox with him as a child and vacations with him still. “Even as a child, I never saw him real high or real low. I don’t remember him ever getting mad and crying. He was always in control.”
Except for one thing. “He hated to lose,” Sterghos says. “He wasn’t a good loser.”
“It’s true he’s not very comfortable demonstrating feelings,” says Dr. Don Lipsett, a Brookline psychiatrist and friend for 25 years. “I think he grew up with the sense you contain your feelings.”
Dukakis says he was close to his father. Still, when Panos Dukakis died in 1979, his son says he was surprised to discover a stock portfolio worth more than $1.3 million in the will. “I didn’t have the slightest idea,” Dukakis says.
Dukakis waited until last September to tell the public about his father’s two trusts, now worth more than $2 million. When the news broke, stories focused on why the can-do candidate did not sell stocks of companies doing business in South Africa until August, 1986, three years after he had pushed the state to divest such holdings.
Dukakis, a co-trustee with his mother, had received regular reports from the bank trustees and had signed annual detailed accountings, Norfolk County probate court records say. He told reporters, however, that he was “not an active trustee” and had not paid attention.
But back at Brookline High School, young Michael had paid a great deal of attention. Even his demanding parents were pleased.
“Michael was what your mother always wanted you to be, but you never were,” says teen-age friend Haskel A. Kassler, now a Boston lawyer. “Nearly all A’s. Trumpet player in the band. Captain of the tennis team. President of the Student Council. Cross-country team. Varsity baseball and basketball. And dating one of the prettiest girls in the school.”
Her name was Sandra Cohen. Although a senior, he had not dated before. So she patiently taught him to fox-trot in her aunt’s kitchen. After a Red Sox game or concert, they would talk for hours outside the Dukakis home.
Inside, Panos fumed. “He didn’t have time for such nonsense,” Euterpe says. “He didn’t want anything to come of it.”
Nothing did. At year’s end, Michael asked Sandy to the senior prom. But she already had a date. Dukakis spent prom night checking his friends’ hats and coats.
Friends say Dukakis lied about his age that year to run in the grueling Boston marathon, where he finished 57th. The story lends a humanizing touch to the image of the over-acheiving, straight-arrow student, and Dukakis does not deny the oft-told tale.
But his training partner and marathon mate, Reid (Buzzy) Wiseman, says it is not true. “I’m sure we didn’t lie,” says Wiseman, who finished 45th.
That fall, Dukakis received a partial scholarship at Swarthmore College, the small liberal arts college near Philadelphia. Here too he stood out. But here too myth has clouded the facts.
A much-repeated story holds that Dukakis led an early civil rights boycott against local Swarthmore barbers because they refused to cut black students’ hair. Dukakis has never denied it. But it did not happen that way.
Always tight for cash, Dukakis cut hair in his Swarthmore dorm for three years, charging his friends 75 cents or so each. He even cut his own hair. One day three Nigerian exchange students showed up, saying local barbers had refused them. Dukakis happily obliged.
The local paper wrote it up as a blow against injustice. But “Mike was not a boycotter,” says Frank Sieverts, his roommate for three years and now a spokesman for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “He just cut their hair.”
Still, Dukakis first turned to politics at college. He organized student poll watchers for a local mayoral race and helped organize students for Democratic presidential nominee Adlai E. Stevenson in 1952.
And he got a D in physics. It ended his plans to follow his father as a doctor. “He knew his father would be disappointed,” Sieverts said. “This was not a family in which any setback would be well received.”
But the disappointments were few. Dukakis was student council president, sports editor, ran cross-country and played basketball and tennis. He turned down an invitation to join an exclusive honor society patterned after Yale’s Skull and Bones. Too elitist, he said.
On vacation, he hitchhiked to Miami, New Orleans, even Mexico. “We slept in used-car lots, by the road, all-night movies, in people’s cars,” recalls Dick Burtis, who thumbed with him for a month. “We saw the U.S. from the ground up.”
And Dukakis began to plan for his future. “He talked, in the dark of night, when the lights were off, of running for governor,” says roommate Sieverts. “He knew that’s where he could make a difference.”
The first step, Dukakis told his friend, was the Army. He enlisted after graduating in 1955 with highest honors in political science. He was assigned to Munsan, South Korea. The war was over but it was still grim, gray and cold. He hated the regimentation, he wrote friends. After 16 months, he received an honorable discharge as a specialist 3rd class.
Dukakis returned home to punch another ticket: Harvard Law School. He graduated cum laude but his interest was not in practicing law.
Boston was in ferment. John F. Kennedy, a Brookline native, was running for President. The Yankee Brahmin Republicans who had long dominated the state were being swept aside. Now the Irish-dominated, scandal-ridden Democratic machine was wobbling as well.
Dukakis and his friends weighed in a month after Kennedy won. They launched COD, the Commonwealth Organization of Democrats. Their goal, said the suburban insurgents, was to take over the state party by electing young reformers. COD never did accomplish its goal. But Dukakis held up his end: In 1962, he was elected state representative.
Dukakis also got married. Sandy Cohen fixed up her ex-boyfriend with her neighbor, Katherine Dickson. She was tall, thin, with dark hair and piercing eyes. A dancer, she had quit Pennsylvania State University as a sophomore to get married. But she soon returned to Brookline alone with an infant son, John. “It was horrible, the worst thing that ever happened to our family,” Dickson says of his daughter’s quick marriage and divorce.
Again, Panos did not approve of the relationship. “Not because she was Jewish,” says Euterpe. “Never. That she had been married, yes. It made you wonder.”
Eventually, Panos agreed to meet Kitty in a downtown restaurant. She and Michael married in her parents’ apartment on June 20, 1963.
If Michael is cool and detached, Kitty, now 50, is fiery and intense. He buys bargain-basement suits and generic groceries; she likes good wine and flying first class. Together, they are affectionate and delightfully argumentative. “He goes bananas when she drives over 60; she ignores him and lights another cigarette,” says one friend with a laugh. “They’re perfect for each other.”
“Michael sees good in everybody,” Kitty says. “I sometimes get angry with him because I don’t always see good in people. He always sees the glass as half full. I tend to see it as half empty. I think that’s why we’ve gotten along so well.”
Given their intimacy and his attention to detail, it surprised even close friends when Kitty announced at a hospital dedication last July that she had been addicted to mild amphetamines for 26 years--and that Michael, who stood in tears at her side, did not know of her dependency until she underwent rehabilitation in 1982. “I sort of knew,” says her sister, Janet Peters. “Everything she did, she gave credit to the pills.”
It was not Dukakis’ first family crisis. His older brother Stelian had suffered a nervous breakdown while at Bates College in 1950. He was in and out of hospitals and his family says he never fully recovered. His moods and his weight swung wildly. He would bike miles in a winter storm. A grown man, he would jump out of closets to scare people.
In a no-failure family, Stelian resented his successful younger brother, friends say. “We fought like cats and dogs but we loved each other,” Dukakis says. Whatever the reason, when Michael ran for reelection to the Legislature in 1964, Stelian wrote leaflets urging a vote against his brother. “We went out all night long pulling them out of mailboxes,” says Dickson, Kitty’s father. “He was a sick boy.”
But there is another view of Stelian. He had a master’s degree from Boston University and held a full-time job as local town manager. He announced, but never ran, as a Republican candidate for Congress. “Stelian was a responsible man with a career,” says Beryl Cohen, a neighbor and longtime friend. “It’s not fair to accuse him of being the idiot brother.”
Dukakis stood by his brother. “You try to be understanding, not get angry and be as supportive as you can,” he says. Stelian died in 1973, killed by a hit-and-run driver as he rode his bicycle at night. The driver was never caught.
Dukakis developed a special bond with John, his wife’s young son. He would take the boy onto the House of Representatives floor for special votes, as his father had taken him to the emergency room. And he would take John to Greek Orthodox Church on Easter and other holidays.
As a result, John may be the only person to describe the tightly controlled Dukakis as “a very spiritual man.”
“I have seen him become very moved,” John says. “Moved to tears. At a sermon. Or some thought process of his. I saw it several times.”
Dukakis served eight years in the Legislature in the 1960s, when Boston and the nation were bitterly riven by civil rights and Vietnam. Other state legislators marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he addressed the Statehouse, or demonstrated against the war. Not Dukakis.
His cause was reforming government, not social change. His battles were bloodless: rent control, billboard limits, mass transit and most notably, the nation’s first no-fault auto insurance law. The bill is highlighted in his 1988 campaign biography.
Dukakis introduced the no-fault bill and fought powerful lawyers and insurance groups for four years. But he was unyielding, unsociable, “an outcast,” one colleague recalls. Ultimately, House leaders yanked Dukakis off the final conference committee because his refusal to compromise jeopardized the bill. It only passed when Republican Gov. Francis W. Sargent took the lead. Indeed, Sargent signed it on live TV, helping him win reelection.
“Michael was not considered a player,” says David S. Liederman, a legislator who later became Dukakis’ chief aide. “He was highly principled. And very stubborn.”
But Dukakis was a pro at grass-roots campaigning. In 1970, he won his party’s nomination for lieutenant governor. He lost the race but was set to run for governor four years later against the liberal Sargent.
Dukakis moderated a popular weekly public television show, “The Advocates,” in the interim, developing a comfortable TV presence. But his real ambition--some said his arrogance--was on his 1974 campaign bumper stickers: “Dukakis Should Be Governor,” they read.
The race was ostensibly about urban renewal, expensive highways projects and the growing state deficit. But Boston was torn by battles to integrate its long-segregated schools and headlines screamed about anti-busing violence.
Dukakis opposed busing. Instead, he proposed leaving schools under community control but somehow integrating after-school activities. A Boston Globe editorial scoffed that the plan “would have the effect of preserving segregation.”
Dukakis defends the proposal today, although he still cannot explain it. “I wasn’t ducking anything,” he says. “I was trying to come up with a thoughtful, sensible solution which provided a quality, integrated educational experience.”
But Hubie Jones, now Dean of the School of Social Work at Boston University, remembers it differently.
“He came over to my house one Sunday to talk about his plan,” Jones recalls. “I was concerned he didn’t have a bottom line on this. He was concerned about losing the white ethnic vote in South Boston. My wife and I became furious with him.”
Dukakis beat Sargent in the 1974 post-Watergate tide. Only 41 years old, he was fulfilling the dream he had outlined to friends during those late-night college talks. It was a nightmare instead.
The era is an important one to understanding Dukakis. He campaigns today saying he learned to make “tough choices” in his first term. Others say the question is whether he made the right choices.
Shortly before the election, Dukakis had pledged not to raise taxes to balance the budget, as state law requires. Aides pleaded with him to back down, saying Sargent had overspent by at least $200 million. He refused.
Once Dukakis took office in January, 1975, legislative leaders offered an out: They would raise taxes to pay the now $400-million deficit. He refused again. Overdue bills turned up in files, drawers and shoe boxes. A recession raged. Unemployment shot to 12% while revenues fell. By May, the deficit was more than $600 million. Dukakis would not budge. The state drifted in crisis.
“We’d go at him every day,” recalls Liederman, then his chief of staff. “Finally we stopped because he’d just get crazy. But by not moving, the state’s condition grew steadily worse.”
A year after he was elected, Dukakis finally signed two tax programs, the largest in state history, to raise more than $300 million. He kept a meat cleaver by his desk, a harsh symbol of his attempts to hack away another $300 million in state spending. The cuts were brutal: mental hospitals, medical care for the disabled, drugs for the elderly.
“When the crunch came, he really went out of his way to cut human services, especially services targeted at very poor people,” said Judy Meredith, a prominent human services advocate. “It was outrageous.”
Others recall Dukakis’ pet peeves. When the federal government sent $51 million to improve highways, he vowed to return it. “He said he hated those orange warning barrels on the highway,” one official recalls. “He was like Capt. Queeg.” With unemployed unions and contractors howling, Dukakis backed down.
In a state built on ethnic politics, the moralistic new governor tried to eliminate patronage for legislators. He even refused to hire his own campaign workers. The effect was to penalize those who had helped him. Even his friends were baffled.
“My working for him wasn’t doing him any favor, in his view,” says Francis X. Meaney, a close friend from law school who chaired Dukakis’ early legislative and first gubernatorial campaign. “He saw all of us as working for the common good, not working for Mike Dukakis. He sometimes had to be reminded to say thank you.”
Dukakis became increasingly isolated.
He and Meaney had a bitter falling-out when Dukakis insisted that Meaney’s law firm not handle state bond issues. He considered it a conflict of interest.
“I probably didn’t speak to him for 3 1/2 years,” said then-House Speaker Thomas W. McGee, who led a 4-1 Democratic majority. “It didn’t matter. He wasn’t too interested in what we had to say. His mind was already made up. It was talking to the goddamn wall.”
Since Dukakis hated smoking, even non-smoking legislators puffed cigars in his office. He simply refused to meet lobbyists. “He felt threatened by people with so-called vested interests,” says his brother-in-law, Dr. Alfred Peters, a dentist. “He thought they would sully him.”
He had all the answers, even before you asked the question. “How come they don’t realize this is in their interest?” he would say. “I’m only doing what’s right.”
To outsiders, Dukakis appeared callous, uncaring. But the personal strain was real. Day after day, protesters picketed outside the Dukakis’ plain brick Victorian duplex in Brookline. “We had almost daily bomb threats at our house,” son John says. “Those were tough times.”
News photos showed the new governor walking his young daughters, Andrea and Kara, to school. Unknown to the public, one reason was threats against them too. “My sisters didn’t know it, but when they walked to school, police were watching,” John says.
By his third year in office, Dukakis began to take control. He pushed creative finance programs for development. He hired innovative planners to help target resources: a factory road in Hudson, venture capital for computer firms in Lowell, an industrial park in Taunton. Slowly, steadily, more than 170,000 jobs were created. The deficit turned to a $200-million surplus.
“Michael transformed the politics of the state from the politics of patronage to the politics of projects,” says Frank T. Keefe, state planning director. “People began working together.”
But it was too late. In 1978, Dukakis was abandoned by liberals, hated by businessmen and ridiculed for his regulatory appointments. State police cars sported “Dump the Duke” bumper stickers. He lost his own party’s nomination by 70,000 votes. Worse, he lost to Edward J. King, a patronage-peddling, machine Democrat who said he stood for everything Dukakis opposed.
“It was a miscalculation,” said Richard A. Giesser, Dukakis’ 1978 campaign manager and now chairman of MassPort, the public authority that runs Boston’s harbor and airport. “It was a winnable campaign. But Mike didn’t take King seriously. . . . We didn’t raise a lot of money. And Mike didn’t help very much. He knows that.”
The Greeks have a word for it--hubris. Dukakis obviously was not the first overconfident politician to lose an election. Unlike most, however, he was devastated. He calls it “the most painful thing that ever happened to me.”
Dukakis, his wife and their two daughters wept openly as poll returns came into their Howard Johnson’s hotel suite. “How could I have lost?” he asked friends. When son John called from California, he thought someone had died. “I’m not so old but already I’m a has-been,” Dukakis said bitterly.
When John flew home, he found his father in a rocking chair, staring silently out the office window. That weekend in Nantucket, Dukakis lay face up on a bed. “He hadn’t been sleeping,” John says. “He’d just been playing it over and over. He didn’t understand it. He’d blown it. He didn’t blame anyone else. He was very hard on himself.”
Dukakis and his friends say the loss was a cleansing experience, a “public death,” in Kitty’s words, that allowed his eventual rebirth as a wiser, more human politician. “I learned how to listen,” Dukakis now says over and over as he campaigns.
He has made losing into a virtue. Still, critics and even some colleagues find something forced about his repeated public insistence that he has learned to be more humble.
Dukakis retreated across the Charles River to teach at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. It was a time for reflection, a time to discuss public policy with other experienced managers. “He spent time with students,” recalls Steven Kelman, professor of public policy. “He went to faculty meetings. He had one of the smallest offices, down in the basement. He never complained.”
But over in a small Beacon Street office, aides compiled a computer list of 60,000 former Dukakis supporters. And when a sympathetic state worker revealed that King was using state funds to pay for his lobster lunches and dry cleaning, Dukakis quickly authorized leaking the story to the press. “It was a confirmation of everything he felt about Ed King,” recalls Andy Sutcliffe, his chief aide at the time.
It was also a confirmation that Dukakis was learning to play political hardball. His second race against King was a grudge match, with mud thrown on both sides. “I decided this time, if he started the negative stuff, I was gonna have to come back,” Dukakis says now.
Come back he did. He beat King in 1982 and was reelected by a landslide in 1986. Dukakis appeared a changed man.
In his first term, he would wear a gray suit when the invitation said black tie. In his second, he bought a tuxedo. Duke I, as he was called, cut a program that allowed the House Speaker to dole out summer jobs. Duke II restored the patronage. Duke I rode a trolley to work. Duke II began to use a state car.
“He’s a different person today,” says Secretary of Human Services Philip W. Johnston, who led demonstrations against Dukakis in the first term. “He went through agony. He came out of that with more of a sense of how people suffer. If you’ve never had trouble in your life, you don’t have empathy for people in trouble.”
Instead of huddling with advisers and announcing his policies, he invited those affected to his office to negotiate their own solutions. “What are we trying to achieve?” he would say. “What’s the objective here?” The watchword was consensus, not confrontation. And it usually worked.
“Today he’s with us or ahead of us on most issues,” says Arthur R. Osborne, head of the 400,000-member Massachusetts AFL-CIO Council. “He’s succeeded because he learned how to read the political winds,” says John Crozier, head of the Massachusetts Business Council.
“His leadership style is very Japanese,” says Robert Reich, professor of political economy at the Kennedy School of Government. “He sees a problem, finds the best people and encourages them to find a new solution. . . . He has an abiding faith in the willingness and ability of rational people to put their narrow interests aside in favor of the common good.”
There were problems, of course. Dukakis lost a hard-fought proposal to improve roads, bridges and other infrastructure. His ambitious plan last fall to provide the nation’s first guaranteed statewide health insurance has fallen into legislative limbo. And critics said the consensus process made him a mediator, not a leader, a political wind vane always seeking the center.
Some things had not changed. State Senate President William Bulger delights in telling how Dukakis sent the state police to collect two prestige low-number license plates, which legislators had been allowed to pass to friends or contributors but which Dukakis decided were unjustifiable perks. “He would call it attention to detail,” Bulger says. “I would call it fixation on nonsensical minutiae.”
But the successes are real. One showcase is the Employment and Training Choices Program. ET has helped train and place more than 30,000 welfare recipients in private sector jobs since 1983 and saves taxpayers more than $100 million a year, officials say.
“I had a preconceived notion that ET was a lot of crap,” said Richard Manley, who heads the Massachusetts Taxpayers Assn., a business-supported Boston think tank. “We undertook a 6-month in-depth analysis. It works. Believe me, it works.”
Another success was REAP, the Revenue Enforcement Protection Program. Former Tax Commissioner Ira Jackson says the goal was to chase tax cheats. The means was a public relations blitz. The effect was remarkable.
“I began to seize restaurants and corporate jets,” says Jackson, who now works for the Bank of Boston. “When you have a state trooper, 6-foot-4, flat hat, gun on belt, arms akimbo; with a tax agent, locksmith and Channel 4 news crew, sticking a big Day-Glo orange seizure sign on the side of some guy’s 55-foot yacht, it seizes the imagination and gets to people.”
Thousands of people lined up outside Jackson’s office, checks in hand, when a tax amnesty was declared. State officials now credit REAP with collecting $1.9 billion.
Dukakis says a national REAP-like program, still undefined, would be his first step in solving the federal budget deficit. “We aren’t collecting $110 billion a year in taxes owed,” he said at Harvard Law School in October. He said that "$35 billion, conservatively . . . can be collected each year if we give the IRS the resources to do its job.” Asked by a student if he would also raise taxes to solve the deficit, he replied: “I might, but not until I’d gone out and tried to collect every dime of the $110 billion owed.”
Even people who agree with the idea dispute the numbers. “Can you get $110 billion?” says Jackson, father of REAP. “Absolutely not. Not in a free society.”
Dukakis bases his figures on a task force report led by Rep. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), a former state tax commissioner. But the report says it would take five years before a beefed-up Internal Revenue Service could collect an additional $35 billion a year. And by then, the IRS predicts that the annual “tax gap” will exceed $200 billion.
Dukakis has similar problems with the so-called “Massachusetts Miracle,” a centerpiece of his campaign message. “What has happened here is a model of what we can do for other states,” he said in November at Harvard’s Kennedy School. “What he did for Massachusetts, he can do for America,” says a TV ad in Iowa.
The state clearly has boomed. Unemployment is less than 3%. Route 128 around Boston became “America’s Technology Highway,” the East Coast answer to Silicon Valley. Dying mill towns like Lowell were reborn as high-tech wonders. Officials say more than 300,000 jobs were created.
“He deserves a lot of credit,” argues Alden Raine, state director of economic opportunity. A new highway, for example, helped direct jobs and industry to depressed southeastern towns. A new state industrial finance agency provided $4 billion in loans and support to hundreds of small companies. State-supported “centers of excellence” helped develop biotechnology, photovoltaics and other esoteric ventures.
But unemployment also appears dramatically down partially because the population is stagnant. Software companies blossomed because America automated its offices and engineers poured out of Boston’s universities. Pentagon spending has tripled in the state, to nearly $9 billion a year. And the rest of New England is booming as well.
“Bozo the Clown could have run this state for the last five years and looked good,” says Barbara Anderson, head of Citizens for Limited Taxation, which has fought to lower taxes.
“If you’re looking at the economy here, state policy didn’t have a hell of a lot to do with it,” says Ronald Ferguson, assistant professor of public policy at the Kennedy School of Government.
“It’s not a sham for him to take some responsibility for changes here, particularly changes in attitude,” says Ferguson, who co-authored a study on the state economy last March. “The closer he comes to taking credit for the whole thing, the less credible he becomes.”
Dukakis’ campaign biography says he “helped launch the effort to clean up Boston’s historic harbor.”
But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says Boston’s 50-square-mile harbor is the nation’s most seriously polluted. Shellfish beds are contaminated; fishing is hazardous, and beaches often are strewn with feces. The reason is that Greater Boston’s 43 cities and towns pump 500 million gallons of nearly raw human sewage and industrial waste into the shallow harbor waters every day.
That’s because the state delayed implementation of the 1972 Clean Water Act, which required secondary sewage treatment, by fighting for a wavier until December, 1984. At that point state Superior Court Judge Paul S. Garrity ordered a stop to every new sewage hookup, halting all development, unless the state took action. A federal judge, A. David Mazzone, now directs a 10-year cleanup of the harbor but the state is far behind schedule and facing heavy fines.
“Of course it’s the governor’s fault,” says Garrity, who has left the bench. “He never got in front of it. No one did. . . . It was a failure of leadership.”
Dukakis blames his aides. “Look, I accepted the judgment of the people who advised me at the time,” he says stiffly. “They said good, effective primary treatment would be effective. . . . Secondary treatment is very expensive.”
Yet the delay may be the most expensive mistake in the state’s history. Federal funding for treatment plants has nearly ended, whereas the expected cost of cleanup has quadrupled to more than $3 billion. Residential ratepayers are told to expect water bills of $1,000 or more a year in a decade.
“Boston Harbor and the cleanup will remain one of the principal paradoxes of Michael Dukakis, the super manager,” says Conservation Law Foundation attorney Peter Shelley, whose suit sparked the court-ordered cleanup. “It’s been an issue that doesn’t interest him. So he doesn’t get involved. He doesn’t accept the consequences of his management style. It’s his blind spot.”
But Dukakis’ blind spots perhaps were best illuminated by his relations with John Sasso, his former chief of staff and campaign manager. They had met in 1978, when Dukakis had just been turned out of office. Friends say Dukakis would not have been reelected governor and would not be running for President were it not for Sasso’s political expertise and national contacts. Dukakis has said Sasso was “like a brother.” Others saw the smooth, cigar-smoking Sasso as a kind of dark alter ego. It was Sasso who played a tape for reporters in the 1982 campaign that mocked King’s wife’s battle with polio, and then denied it. It was Sasso who massaged egos, twisted arms and made deals in the Statehouse for Dukakis’ ambitious programs.
And it was Sasso who arranged to send reporters an “attack videotape” last September showing how rival presidential candidate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, had parroted British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. Biden quit in the resulting furor. A week later, Sasso admitted his role and was forced to quit.
It was a bitter blow, the worst since 1978. Dukakis was dazed, alternating between anger and tears. But as before, his handling of the crisis raised questions.
Dukakis first told reporters he would not let Sasso resign, then hours later did. He first refused to grant Sasso severance pay, then changed his mind when friends intervened, one aide says. Finally, Dukakis announced that Sasso would “play no role, formal or informal” in the campaign. He says now they still discuss politics but not “political strategy.” Sasso declines comment.
“If Michael has an Achilles’ heel, it’s his self-righteousness,” former chief aide Liederman says. “It’s probably his worst quality. He never wants anyone to accuse him of being less than absolutely pure.”
Purity is rare in politics. What would Dukakis be like as President? If a recession hits the nation, as many predict, would Duke I or Duke II respond? If crisis strikes, would he rally the nation or draw into himself? If leadership is required, could he inspire America? Can his obvious intelligence and grit make up for his inexperience in foreign affairs?
Like his Greek forebears, Dukakis is on an odyssey. Driven by his parents’ example and haunted by his own humiliation, he has turned from zealous idealist to pragmatic politician. It is worth noting that most of his critics in Massachusetts support him for President.
After all, many of them say, with Michael Dukakis, what you see is what you get.