Lifelong achiever Dukakis aims for politics' highest prize
MICHAEL DUKAKIS figures that during college breaks he hitchhiked at least 40,000 miles around the United States. Thirty years later, he is trying to hitch a ride to the White House on his reputation as a man who can balance budgets and take care of the downtrodden. The turnaround of his state's economy from ``basket case to showcase'' is often referred to as the ``Massachusetts Miracle.''Skip to next paragraph
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While some observers dispute how much of the credit for the state's recovery should go to Governor Dukakis rather than to national economic forces, few question his integrity, his intelligence, or his dedication to a career as a public servant.
He has an image of a hands-on technocrat, a lover of detail, and a keen student when it comes to learning about problems and their proposed solutions. Perceived as antibusiness during his first term as governor, Mr. Dukakis has earned a reputation as pro-growth, with an open ear to the needs of Massachusetts' private sector.
As a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Dukakis has raised close to $10 million, more than any other candidate. The funds will come in handy for a candidate who is not well known outside New England. Critics also claim he lacks foreign policy experience and familiarity with national issues like farm policy. Even some of his close friends worry that his matter-of-fact style lacks the charisma needed to spark a fire under the electorate.
Yet Dukakis is attracting attention. He is expected to win the New Hampshire primary, although Gary Hart's reentry into the race could eat into his lead there. And in a recent NBC poll of Iowa voters, Dukakis, with 20 percent, was only 1 point behind the front-runner, Sen. Paul Simon. A majority of professional political consultants surveyed recently predicted Dukakis will get the Democratic nomination.
Youth and college
Michael Dukakis, the son of Greek immigrants, has always been an achiever, and has always gained the respect of his peers. At Brookline High School, just outside Boston, he was elected vice-president of his freshman, sophomore, and junior classes, and student council president in his senior year. He lettered in baseball, basketball, cross country, and tennis, and he played the trumpet in the school band.
He was very serious, a characteristic attributed to his disciplined upbringing. In their recent book, ``Dukakis and the Reform Impulse,'' biographers Michael Segal and Richard Gaines write, ``Rather than give up any opportunity for scholastic, athletic, or political advancement, the fun stuff just got put on hold. It was a matter of priorities.''
Dukakis denies that he is overly serious. ``I can never remember a time when I wasn't very happy, very busy, very fulfilled...,'' he says. ``I just had a great time.''
Dukakis went on to college at Swarthmore, near Philadelphia. Soon after he arrived, he demonstrated his leadership qualities once again by heading up opposition to fraternities that discriminated against blacks.
``It was their exclusivity that turned off Michael and led him to take a lead in opposing them,'' says college roommate Frank Sieverts, now press spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As a result of Dukakis's efforts, fraternity membership dropped sharply, Mr. Sieverts says.
Another instance of his maturing leadership came when he learned that black students were being turned away from a local barbershop. ``Just as the fuss began to grow, Dukakis stepped in and said, `I'll cut their hair,''' Sieverts remembers.
``They used to complain about two things,'' says Dukakis. ``First, that I had only one style, and second, that they had to listen to my brand of political talk or be threatened with annihilation,'' he says with a smile.
``We all looked like Ollie North,'' says Sieverts about the haircuts. But Sieverts adds that what impressed him the most was that ``six months later [Dukakis] befriended the barber ... and convinced [him] that he ought to cut the black students' hair.''