Michael Dukakis Up Close
In the sprawling Boston suburb of Brookline, the genteel red-brick house at 85 Perry St. is—like its owner —partially hidden from view. High
hedges and a flowering chestnut tree conceal its weathered façade from passers-by. And on a recent Sunday the house might have gone unnoticed had it not been for half a dozen secret service agents outside, keeping watch over the man code-named Peso.
But as the agents paced the driveway in grey suits and sunglasses, they found themselves standing guard over an unusual spectacle. On the far side of the hedge, Michael Stanley Dukakis—the man whom pollsters last week predicted would be the next president of the United States—was stealing a few hours from the campaign trail to indulge in a cherished annual rite: planting tomatoes in his tiny front garden. That spectacle not only showed the cerebral Massachusetts governor as he is seldom seen in publicrelaxed and expansive — it also underlined the down-to-earth sensibility of the complex man who will almost surely emerge from next week’s California primary as the Democratic party’s presidential nominee.
Trust: Indeed, as the primary season entered its final stretch last week, respondents to a Washington POST/ABC News poll preferred Dukakis over Vice-President George Bush by a 53-to-40-per-cent margin. And for the first time in more than a decade a majority declared that they had more confidence in a Democrat to hold the national purse strings than a Republican. Dukakis has earned that economic trust largely on his record as the man who has presided over what his aides call “the Massachusetts Miracle” (page 28). But after four months of presidential primaries the diminutive 54-year-old governor remains better known as a manager than a man.
Still, in an interview with Maclean’s, Dukakis revealed himself as a politician who, if elected president, would be the most sympathetic U.S. leader in history to Canadian needs and sensitivities (page 26). Dukakis is also the presidential candidate best-known to Canadian politicians. A foe of acid rain, Dukakis in fact may make the so-called special relationship between the two countries a reality.
But at home, Dukakis remains a contradictory figure. In his eight years as governor he has determinedly maintained the lifestyle of the common man, forgoing the pomp of office and taking the Boston subway to work. Yet he has never quite mastered the common touch and he has had to teach himself to make small talk. Although he is widely regarded as a cool technocrat, his friends and family know him as a man of intense emotions. He wept openly at the news conference last year when his wife, Kitty, confessed her 26-year addiction—now cured—to diet pills. And on the campaign trail, he fondly embraces his stepson, John, 29, and daughters Andrea, 22, and Kara, 19, who have fanned out over California to campaign for him.
Love: Nor is there any doubt that his marriage is one of the few genuine love stories in American politics. A reporter recently blundered into the private room of a Boston air terminal after a day on the campaign trail only to discover the governor and his wife alone, dancing cheek to cheek. Said his first high-school girlfriend, Sandy Bakalar, now a Boston housewife: “Michael is one of those people who doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. He saves them for his private circle.”
Observers have consistently characterized Dukakis as uncharismatic. And the candidate himself admits that he is “not a razzle-dazzle kind of guy,” adding, “but I think I grow on people.” Still, the governor has managed to inspire a generation of young activists to follow him in a reform movement—leading them in routing the corrupt Democratic Old Guard. And under his innovative three terms, Massachusetts has been transformed from what he calls “a basket case” to a high-tech showcase, with unemployment dropping to under three per cent this year from 11.2 per cent in 1975. In fact, when Dukakis was re-elected to his second term as governor in 1982, his personnel director, Nicholas Mitropoulos, received more than 15,000 job applications for the public service. Said Mitropoulos: “These were people willing to take major salary cuts. This guy inspires excitement.”
Surprise: In fact, many members of the Dukakis team say that their candidate’s low-key style works in his favor. At a Hollywood rally two weeks ago, movie star Sally Field declared, “I am passionate about Mike Dukakis.” And aides predict that—like Ronald Reagan, another politician whose broad appeal was initial^ ly underestimated by the media—Duka= kis may gradually disarm his audiences, o According to veteran Democratic strateo gist Anthony Podesta: “The rap that he í has a lack of charisma is the secret weap| on of the campaign. People walk into his o speeches with expectations that are very low and they end up being surprised.”
In fact, many election experts say that Dukakis is a politician who is capable of blurring old ideological battle lines. And some scholars predict that, if he is elected to the White House, he could turn out to be remarkably conservative. The governor’s aides do not challenge that view. Said Mitropoulos: “I think he is awfully fiscally conservative by nature. You can start with how he spends the money in his own wallet.” Indeed, Dukakis’s reputation as a penny pincher who brown-bags his lunches to the State House—and still buys his suits in the bargain basement of Boston’s department store Filene’s—has become a Massachusetts joke.
And on the campaign trail, Kitty Dukakis regales reporters with tales about his frugality. He insists on doing the family’s weekly shopping himself, she says, and he refused to give their children allowances. But his wife says reports that she hides her new clothes at her parents’ house are exaggerated. “I’d put them in my closet for a while,” she told Maclean's, “and then when I wore them and he would ask, fis that new?’ I’d just say, “No, I’ve had it for months. ’ I didn’t exactly lie, because by then it was true.”
Dream: That frugality has its roots in the spacious, well-tended beige clapboard bungalow in Brookline where he grew up, only three kilometres from his present home. There, behind a white picket fence, he was raised to believe in the reality of the American dream. His father, Panos, had arrived from Greece at 15—with $25 and not a word of English—to join his brothers who were already in America, working in the kitchens of Greek restaurants and the textile mills on the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border. Twelve years after landing in America, Panos graduated from the country’s most prestigious medical school, Harvard, as an obstetrician. But it was not until he had set up in private practice near Boston’s Greek Orthodox cathedral that Panos Dukakis started courting a young teacher named Euterpe Boukis, whom he had met briefly nine years before. Within a year they married.
Another immigrant, who had arrived at the age of 9, Euterpe had a background similar to her husband’s. She had studied at Massachusetts’ Bates College to become a high-school teacher. Last week—at 84, a widow for nine years—she was campaigning for her son in California. She told Maclean 's: “To go away to college was unheard of in those days for a girl from a Greek family. I went to a coeducational college, but I could not date because my family would have been terribly upset.” Michael, her second son, was raised to respect the values of dedication and discipline.
As Dukakis campaigns in Greek coffeehouses, his speeches take on a rare note of passion. And his Greek connections have provided him with a substantial proportion of his $20 million in campaign funds. In fact, many Greeks who have previously voted Republican are now rallying around him. And their loyalty has even crossed borders. Anna Kapelos, a London, Ont.,
widow, remembers young Michael Dukakis from her girlhood in Boston, when his father removed her appendix. Now her son John, a Hollywood actor who appeared in the film Roxanne, has volunteered to work for Dukakis. Said John Kapelos: “I am proud because he is GreekAmerican. What he represents to me is that you can achieve whatever you want.”
Symbol: Dukakis himself is at his most moving as he speaks to immigrant audiences, whether Greek, Hispanic or Asian. His campaign has consciously reached out to ethnic minorities. Two weeks ago, at the end of a hectic day of campaigning, he came to life at a fund raiser in the Golden Dragon, a Los §
Angeles Chinese restaurant. £
There, 1,000 Asian-Ameri cans had paid $500 a plate to hear him describe himself as "a symbol for ethnic commu
nities all over America.” Said Dukakis: “If this son of immigrants can seek and win the presidency, then your kids and grandkids can do the same. That’s what this country is all about.”
Like many immigrants, the Dukakis family valued education. And the governor travels the country now, urging students to become teachers. He also talks of creating a kind of domestic Peace Corps, whose volunteers would win partial forgiveness of their student loans. That ideal of public service, he said, results from watching his father “helping others, healing others.” Added Dukakis: “That’s why I am in politics. I don’t know of any vocation, with the exception of medicine, where you can do more to make a real difference in the lives of people.”
Dazzle: Dukakis himself was a brilliant student. Not only did he top his high-school class but he won places on the baseball, track and tennis teams, was voted president of his student council, and served as class valedictorian in Brookline high school. In fact, one of many female students who was dazzled by his accomplishments was Kitty Dickson—the daughter of a Jewish violinist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra— who was three years his junior. She dropped out of college at 20 to marry an air force officer named John Chaffetz. But after her divorce four years later she returned to Boston from California with her three-year-old son, John. When Bakalar offered to introduce her to Dukakis, by then a young lawyer involved in local politics, she had no trouble remembering him. “He was someone to be admired from afar,” she recalled.
On their first date, in a French restaurant, she found him as driven and as clear about his goals as ever. She was touched, too, by his kindness to her son, whom he often babysat. Despite the opposition of their families, they married, raising their children in both the Greek Orthodox and Jewish religions and tra-
ditions. In other respects, too, their partnership is a testimonial to how a marriage of opposites can thrive. Dukakis is obsessively neat; she admits that she is hopelessly messy. And for years, as they drove about the state on his gubernatorial campaigns,
Kitty Dukakis would sneak into the backseat for a cigarette while the nonsmoking Dukakis sat up front glowering in disapproval.
Action: But she remains his closest friend and his s sounding board. As First §
Lady, she makes clear § that she would be “an acw tivist.” She is a tireless Ö advocate for the homeless | and refugees. She once & gained entry to a refugee Dukakis and wife in San Francisco: opposites attract camp in Thailand by throwing herself onto her knees in front of a Thai colonel who had refused her entry. Indeed, so involved has she been in her husband’s causes that, on occasion, she has angered some state officials by storming into their offices demanding action.
She attributes her impetuous behavior partly to her previous addiction to prescription amphetamines, which she started taking at 19, “because I thought I was fat.” Now, when her husband addresses students, she often joins in to urge them not to take drugs. “Think long and hard,” she told black high-school students in Los Angeles. “Life is too sweet.”
Another profound influence on Dukakis’s life was his upset in Massachusetts’ 1978 gubernatorial primaries. Since college Dukakis had dreamed of a career in politics. His hero was another Brookline
native, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. But even as an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, west of Philadelphia, Dukakis knew he wanted to be a governor. By that time he was already organizing the campus for a local Democratic mayoralty candidate attacking party corruption. When he moved on to Harvard Law School, he took his reform impulses with him, helping to found a group of young activists who set out to oust the corrupt Irish clique who then ruled Massachusetts Democratic politics. Even before he had graduated with honors, Dukakis had been elected on the reform slate that took over Brookline’s Democratic town committee.
Ladder: From there, juggling his law practice, Dukakis worked his way up the political ladder, to become a member of the state legislature. While others of his generation were marching against the Vietnam War and for civil rights, Dukakis was working on mass transit and nofault auto insurance bills. In 1974, after building coalitions and collecting political lOUs, he achieved his dream of becoming governor. But four years later that dream lay in tatters as he lost the nomination for the Democratic party for a second term.
He had turned around the state’s $635-million budget deficit. But in the process, he had broken an election promise not to raise taxes and alienated the state’s major interest groups.
In fact, Dukakis now acknowledges that the voters punished him in part for his arrogance. But he credits the trauma of rejection with helping to shape him for his present role. “It was one of the most
painful things that ever happened to me,” he told Maclean's. “But when you get beaten—if you don’t blame somebody else—you sit down and think long and hard about what happened. There is no question that I am a much better person.”
Skills: Retreating to Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he taught a course in public management, Dukakis developed two skills. Taking a job as moderator of a public television forum called The Advocates, he honed his television talents. But more important, he learned to listen. And he developed that talent into such an art form that one night three years ago—during a party at then-Canadian consul general Barney Danson’s house in Boston—he was found in the kitchen, talking in his fluent Spanish with the family’s Mexican maid, Maria, asking how she thought Massachusetts ought to be run.
When Dukakis was voted back into the governor’s office in 1983—once more inheriting a record state deficit—he brought his new style of consensusbuilding with him. And his determination to forge partnerships with interest groups accounts for much of the subsequent success of his so-called economic miracle. Few developments illustrate that more clearly than his health care bill—the first of any state in the nation-requiring employers with more than six workers to provide health insurance for their employees. Other citizens can draw on a special state fund.
By the time it was passed last month, Dukakis had won over his chief opponents in the medical and insurance establish-
ment by agreeing to address their concerns. He is already bringing that kind of approach to his preparations for the White House.
Radical: But it is on economic matters that he may represent a radical new departure in American politics. Thomas Axworthy, former principal secretary to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, met Dukakis at a series of breakfast policy briefings that the governor hosted while Axworthy was associate of Harvard’s Centre for International Affairs in 1986. He was struck by the way that Dukakis was wrestling with many g of the dilemmas of old-style = liberalism. Said Axworthy: I “There aren’t all that many
0 American politicians who g worry about how to get
1 black mothers off welfare. 8 But he wanted new ways of
approaching old problems. I came away thinking he
In fact, Dukakis’s success in Massachusetts at forging a public and private partnership to narrow the gap between haves and have-nots—redefining the concepts of welfare and good corporate citizenship—is a blueprint that has defied traditional political definitions. He has shown himself to be both a free-spending social liberal and a fiscal conservative, in the process moving beyond both labels. And some analysts now predict that by eluding neat definitions, Dukakis is capable of attracting many disaffected Middle American voters who once abandoned the Democrats to vote for Reagan. Among them is Thomas Peters, the best-selling business author who wrote In Search of Excellence. Peters showed up at Dukakis’s Boston campaign headquarters last week to volunteer his services. “I am one of those people who are unhappy with the old liberalism as well as the mindless optimism of Reagan,” said Peters. “With his emphasis on pragmatism and entrepreneurship, Dukakis represents a way to come back to the Democratic party.” Indeed, if Dukakis should win the election on Nov. 8, the cautious technocrat with the uncharismatic style may surprise his critics by sparking a revolutionary redefinition of American political life.
was a real visionary.”