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Dukakis Visits School in Day of Local Focus

Times Staff Writer

On a day dominated by an American hostage’s release from Lebanon, the space shuttle landing and discussions of future campaign debates, Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis went local Monday.

Campaign strategists already had decided over the weekend that, between the shuttle and the vice presidential debate set for Wednesday, the news agenda would be too crowded this week to allow Dukakis to offer any further major initiative. His proposal of a plan for helping middle-income families with housing costs has been put off until later.

Instead, Dukakis’ decided to offer a reprise of earlier themes, aimed at getting local television coverage in hotly contested states and keeping the campaign focused on his theme. As he told a midday rally in Hartford, Conn.: “Mr. Bush offers complacency; I offer change. He gives us slogans; we’re offering solutions.”

Science Teacher Idea

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Dukakis did add one small proposal during the day. He suggested a $15-million program of federal, state and local cooperation to get retired scientists and engineers to teach in public schools that lack science teachers. Most of the details of such a plan would be left up to the local school districts, his aides said.

Dukakis began his day with a telegenic group of 35 white, Latino and black pupils at an elementary school in Hartford. Then, after the rally, he flew here to tour an incinerator used to destroy illegal drugs seized in raids.

Later, on Chicago’s mostly black South Side, he was to speak at what would be his second large public rally in a black neighborhood since the Democratic convention in July.

With the polls showing many undecided black voters in several key states, Dukakis has stepped up his efforts to appeal to what has been the Democrats’ most reliable voting bloc.

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His campaign has launched a major radio-advertising effort to reach black voters, as well as print advertisements featuring an endorsement from the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Although he earlier spoke negatively about the campaign, Jackson has been more supportive recently. He was not expected to attend the Chicago rally, but was sending one of his sons in his place.

Child’s Hard Question

Dukakis’ chat with the fourth, fifth and sixth graders at the Alfred E. Burr elementary school in Hartford provided him a backdrop for emphasizing the importance of education, but he stumbled over a question from one of the children that many politicians seem unable to answer: “Why are you running?”

The questioner was 9-year-old Steven Maturo, who is to portray Dukakis in a class play about the election. Judging by his appearance--he was the only boy in the class wearing a coat and tie--he has the role down, but his question did not elicit much to aid his acting.

“It was a very important decision for me to make, and a difficult one,” Dukakis began. Then he spoke for a moment about what America needs to do “if we’re going to be the best.”

Finally, he concluded: “My family was very supportive. All of my children as well as my wife thought that I should run, and that’s very important, so here I am.”

Dukakis did better with a question about why he is a Democrat. He explained to the students that Democrats “are committed to helping people to live better lives and are more willing than the Republicans” to take action to “make that happen.”


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