Calls Him a Man Who ‘Changed World’ : Dukakis Eulogizes Latino Political Leader Velasquez

Times Staff Writer

More than 1,000 people, including political figures from throughout the Southwest and Democratic presidential hopeful Michael S. Dukakis, gathered Saturday in San Antonio’s Church of St. Mary to hear Latino leader Willie Velasquez eulogized as a man who, in Dukakis’ words, “believed in democracy” and “changed the world.”

The Mass mixed religious inspiration with political commitment as eulogists pledged to carry on Velasquez’s work and ushers circulated among the crowd wearing lapel pins proclaiming “Su Voto es su Voz”--Your vote is your voice--the slogan of his Southwest Voter Registration Project.

Dukakis’ fairly low-key remarks, in Spanish and English, received standing ovations. He told the worshipers gathered under the church’s Neo-Romanesque gold-and-white vault that Velasquez “loved this country . . . and all he asked from it was a fair share of the American dream for himself, and for every American, no matter who they are or where they come from or what the color of their skin.”


Led Voter Registration

Velasquez, who died Thursday of cancer at age 44, was one of the nation’s most prominent Mexican-American political leaders. In 1974, after several years as an organizer for the United Farm Workers and the National Council of La Raza, he founded the voter registration project, which has since led more than 1,000 voter registration drives as well as filing dozens of lawsuits to enforce the federal Voting Rights Act.

Dukakis, who met Velasquez when both men were teaching at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1981, had been planning to name Velasquez a co-chairman of his national campaign.

Later in the day, Dukakis praised Velasquez again, this time at the Texas Democratic convention in Houston, where he told the more than 1,500 delegates that their task was to “continue his work” to “make democracy come alive” for all Americans.

Unveiling a new campaign stump speech at the convention, Dukakis brought the delegates repeatedly to their feet as he asked them to “stand with us” because Democrats are “America’s party.”

Emphasizes Economic Growth

The speech, which encapsulates the major themes Dukakis is expected to invoke during his general election campaign, emphasized economic growth, saying the Republicans stood for “maintaining the status quo--running in place.”

“We’re going to win because we’re the party of working Americans,” he proclaimed. “The party of families . . . the party of progress . . . the party of strength . . . the party of the future.”

The speech also took some implicit jabs at Dukakis’ expected Republican opponent, Vice President George Bush, who over the last few weeks frequently has called Dukakis a “McGovern liberal” because of his positions on defense spending, the death penalty and other issues.

“Some people say this election is about labels; I say it’s about jobs,” Dukakis said. “Some people say this election is about where we went to college,” a reference to Bush’s jab at Dukakis’ Harvard ties. “I say it’s about whether our children will have the chance to go to college. . . .

“Some people say this election is about how much money they can make on Wall Street; I say it’s about creating jobs on Main Street.”

But Dukakis’ remarks were mild compared to those of Texas’ popular and flamboyant agriculture commissioner, Jim Hightower, a leading supporter of the Rev. Jesse Jackson who is expected to campaign as a Dukakis surrogate this fall.

“The only thing uglier than my face” is Bush’s record, said Hightower, to cheers from the partisan crowd. “And I’m going to expose both all over this country.”

“We’re not just going to drive George Bush out of office, we’re going to drive him plumb crazy,” Hightower added. “We’re going to chase that bunch of corrupt, inept Republican blue bloods back to Hollywood . . . back to Wall Street.”

After leaving Texas, Dukakis proceeded to Montgomery, Ala., where his motorcade took a brief detour to a suburban subdivision where Dukakis visited Alabama’s wheelchair-bound former Gov. George C. Wallace. The visit lasted only long enough for a brief chat and for the ailing Wallace to be wheeled out of his home and be photographed shaking hands with Dukakis.

But while the visit was brief, it was highly useful for Dukakis’ continuing effort to show Southern voters that he is not, as the Republicans charge, a “Northeastern liberal.”

“Every redneck in Alabama will see that on television,” said former Alabama state Democratic Chairman Jimmy Knight.