This was Archie Bunker’s territory in fiction, Geraldine A. Ferraro’s in Congress, Ronald Reagan’s in 1984, and is one of the regions thought to be solidly for Michael S. Dukakis in 1988.
But on Thursday, George Bush carried his attack to Dukakis’ base, seeking to pry away the so-called Reagan Democrats--voters who are ethnic in heritage, Catholic in religion, Democratic by tradition but increasingly Republican in practice.
His issue was the death penalty, which Dukakis opposes.
Cheers Greet Calls
Tuesday, two New York City policemen were killed by drug dealers. And as Bush arrived at Christ the King Catholic High School in Queens to receive the endorsement of the city’s police unions, the wild cheers that greeted calls for death to cop killers left no doubt about the appeal of death sentences as a political issue.
Bush’s speech was delivered in the packed gymnasium at the school, situated in the middle of a row house-lined, heavily blue-collar Democratic neighborhood formerly represented by Ferraro. The address was preceded by the National Anthem, the mass recitation of a student anti-drug pledge and a series of anti-crime speeches by local police and political leaders.
Police union chief Phil Caruso presented Bush with a patrolman’s cap, along with the endorsement of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Assn. and related unions.
“Civil libertarianism . . . well-channeled is no vice,” he said. “But when it is used to handcuff and shackle the police, it is a vice.” Bush, he said, would appoint judges who would “provide us with the legal tools we need.”
Bush’s text followed similar themes. “When a police officer is murdered, the killer should pay with his life,” Bush said. The Massachusetts state furlough program that Dukakis presided over until earlier this year was “disgraceful,” he said, and a President should pledge to appoint judges who “will have a little more sympathy for the victims of crime and a little less for the criminal.”
‘You Cull It Out’
Crime, he said, “is not a simple problem.” Much of it, he said, may be caused by broken homes and deteriorating neighborhoods. “But when that apple rots, you cull it out . . . . Some people need to be taken off the streets and kept off the streets.”
Bush also included a challenge to his mostly teen-age audience. “The fancy cars, the Porsches, the Mercedes” and the “gaudy displays” of drug dealers’ wealth do not come only from ghetto neighborhoods, he reminded them.
“There isn’t enough money on all the mean streets of this city to keep those guys happy. They’re making it on your money,” he said.
“Your middle-class money pays for the bullets and the guns that kill the officers that we honor here today, and we’ve got to stop it as a nation.”
Solving the drug problem, he said, would require not only stepped up interdiction at the border, but also an end to “enabling behavior” by people who allow their friends to use drugs.
“When I was 18,” he said, “I headed off to war. Your war is here at home.”
Bush shared the dais later Thursday with Dukakis at the annual Alfred E. Smith dinner, which is sponsored by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York and is a nonpartisan event that benefits Catholic charities.
Bush’s reception here and at a similar foray earlier in the day into traditional Democratic territory in New Jersey also highlighted the relative weakness of the Republican Party below the presidential level.
At the New Jersey stop, a Polish-American rally in traditionally Democratic Middlesex County, the GOP’s Senate candidate, Pete Dawkins, was largely ignored by the crowd when he preceded Bush to the podium.
Dawkins attempted to use against his Democratic opponent, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, many of the same issues, even the same words, that Bush has used against Dukakis, but the crowd seemed uninterested.
“Maybe people don’t know who he is,” a supporter said.
And Dawkins’ greeting was better than that of the party nominee across the Hudson River. In Queens, the Republicans did not even bother to have their Senate candidate, Robert McMillan, speak. He had to be content with one brief mention by Bush and a picture opportunity of the two candidates standing next to each other on the podium.