The inquiry was both startling and blunt. At an all-black high school in Los Angeles late last month, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis was clearly caught off guard by his first student questioner. “Is this a token visit?” she asked. “Is this a visit to a black school to show black people you care?” Dukakis hastened to assure his questioner that he had been visiting black schools in his home state for years.
But that confrontation underlined the delicacy of the task he faces as this week’s balloting in California and New Jersey wraps up the 1988 presidential primary season.
With Dukakis virtually certain to emerge as the Democratic nominee over his sole remaining rival, Jesse Jackson, he will now have to start attracting the support of large numbers of black voters—more than 90 per cent of whom backed the charismatic black preacher in the primaries. And he will have to accomplish that without alienating Jackson himself. To that end, Dukakis’s aides held a two-day strategy session for 100 key black supporters from 17 states in Boston last week.
Said Charlene Drew Jarvis, a Washington, D.C., city council member: “Clearly the presence of black Americans in this campaign is going to have to be expanded.”
But complicating that process last week was renewed pressure from Jackson himself. Appearing to acknowledge that his presidential bid was doomed, he publicly challenged Dukakis to offer him a job as his running mate. “If he wins, I have earned consideration,” Jackson told a New Jersey news conference. But Dukakis, whose wife, Kitty, underwent successful back surgery last Friday, sidestepped the challenge. Speaking later at a community college in Boston’s black Roxbury district, he said that because Jackson had “done so well, of course he is somebody who should be considered.” But he refused to agree that his opponent’s runner-up status gave him a right to the vicepresidency.
The two candidates have chatted frequently over the phone in recent weeks and have developed a good rapport. In fact, insiders in both campaigns acknowledge that Jackson’s toughest demands are less likely to be over the vicepresidential spot—which most say would hamper his long-term political ambitions—than over the party platform. But aides from both camps have
met over the past week to prepare for potential disagreements at the first drafting session of the Democratic platform committee on Michigan’s Mackinac Island in Lake Huron, on June 9.
Still, Dukakis’s top black aides express concern that even if they gain Jackson’s support, black voters may not automatically follow. And behind closed doors last week, they won a commitment to greater efforts to improve minority voter registration in the South and to include more blacks on the organizing staff of the operation.
Last week’s strategy session was orchestrated by Dukakis’s black campaign secretary Joseph Warren, the community affairs director at Boston’s Northeastern University, whose close friendship with the governor sets a vivid example to many blacks. But Warren claims that the most persuasive argument is Dukakis’s record on minority rights. In a state with a 6.7-per-cent minority population, 14 per cent of the governor’s appointments to government jobs have gone to minorities, as have 12
of Dukakis’s 119 judicial appointments. The governor has named a black cabinet secretary, public health commissioner and chancellor of higher education. Said Warren: “Michael Dukakis may not say it passionately, but he does passionate things.”
Still, Warren’s own situation illustrates the dilemma for many blacks. While working for Dukakis, he remains
close to Jackson. They were classmates at North Carolina A and T State University and demonstrated at segregated southern lunch counters. As well, Massachusetts state Senator Royal Bolling Sr., another leading black Dukakis supporter, acknowledged that he had also been supporting Jackson. He added, “I give my money to Jesse and my time to Dukakis.”
To black Boston lawyer Fletcher Wiley, who worked for Jackson when he sought the nomination four years ago and is now campaigning for Dukakis, those dual loyalties show that “all this distance and rancor people are painting is just not there.” And Wiley points out that however disappointed blacks may be at Jackson’s failed White House bid, they are unlikely to vote for Dukakis’s Republican rival, Vice-President George Bush, who shocked even some of his own supporters this spring by opposing a key civil rights bill. Said Wiley: “Mike Dukakis may not eat chitlins with us, but he’s still a soul brother.”
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