Dukakis, Kennedy, and O'Neill - Massachusetts' `odd trio'. Governor, senator, ex-Speaker come from very different Democratic molds

As Republicans shift hard into the attack mode, among their pet targets is the supposed leftward leanings of Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis. ``Very, very far liberal fringe'' is how George Bush, the Republican nominee, described Mr. Dukakis recently. In this portrayal, Republicans have two convenient symbols in Sen. Edward Kennedy and former House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr.

Both are proved bait for right-wing fund-raisers. And both, like Governor Dukakis, are Democrats from Massachusetts.

The cover of an anti-Dukakis brochure, prepared by the Georgia Republican Party, shows Mr. Kennedy holding up Mr. Dukakis's arm in victory.

To Massachusetts political observers, such comparisons seem strained, even by the less-than-rigorous standards of national campaigns.

``Dukakis is referred to as a Kennedy-O'Neill Democrat all the time,'' says Michael Segal, co-author of a recent Dukakis biography. ``But he's not at all, not at any level. He's not a big-spending liberal....''

As loyal Democrats, Mr. O'Neill and Senator Kennedy have lined up behind Dukakis. But neither is personally close to him. For his part, Dukakis has defined his politics as much by his differences with his cohorts as by his similarities.

Dukakis is but a year younger than Kennedy and has been active in politics over a virtually identical period. That Kennedy seems the grizzled veteran and Dukakis the fresh face has to do with the totally different paths the two have taken.

Kennedy's path thrust him early onto the national scene. In 1960, he coordinated the Western states in his brother John's presidential campaign. His father Joe, ever-active where his sons' careers were concerned, then arranged a job for young Ted as an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County (Boston).

Since Ted was only 28, and couldn't run for John's old Senate seat for two years, Joe also ``arranged'' for Ben Smith, an old family friend, to ``keep the seat warm'' for him. In 1962, young Ted won the seat outright and has held it ever since.

While Kennedy was ascending rapidly into the political stratosphere, Michael Dukakis was undertaking the more pedestrian task of remaking the Democratic Party in the state.

Inspired by John Kennedy, Dukakis and a number of Harvard Law School classmates formed an organization called Commonwealth Organization of Democrats, which aimed to wrest party control from the big-city pols who had dominated the state party for years.

Dukakis won election as a state legislator from Brookline in 1962. Over the next 26 years - including six statewide campaigns (one for attorney general, one for lieutenant governor, and four for governor) he built an organization that even his adversaries admire.

``He has developed the finest, tightest political machine in this century in Massachusetts,'' says one.

By contrast, and in traditional Kennedy fashion, the senior senator has left state politics to the Beacon Hill crowd, focusing on the national arena instead.

``You don't see a lot of Ted around,'' says Thomas Gallagher, a former state legislator.

People here call the senator's organization the ``Kennedy party,'' existing as it does outside other party structures.

Stylistically, Kennedy is gregarious, while Dukakis is cerebral and reserved. On policy, Kennedy reflects the ideological cast of national debate, Dukakis, the practical bent of state government. The governor is more inclined to push a work program for welfare recipients (his Employment Training program is an example) than a simple expansion of benefits.

Dukakis campaigned for Kennedy in the latter's 1980 challenge to then-President Jimmy Carter. (In part, this was to rebuild bridges to liberals who had helped toss him out of the governorship two years before.) By most accounts, Kennedy has graciously taken his own unlikely eclipse. Friends note a slight edge, however, to Kennedy's frequent joke about always having known there would be another Democratic president from Massachusetts.

``That can be read nine different ways,'' Segal says.

When Kennedy's presidential prospects still appeared bright, his family discouraged rival eminences on the Democratic side. In 1972, for example, it was widely reported that Ted played a key role in keeping Kevin White, then the Boston mayor, from becoming George McGovern's running mate.

``You were not supposed to have a second guy as a national figure,'' explains one longtime political observer in the state.

Now, through his control of the state convention, Dukakis has played a similar gatekeeper role in the state. It is widely understood that John Sasso, then the governor's chief political enforcer, discouraged Joe Kennedy Jr. (Robert's son) from running for lieutenant governor in 1986. Commentators noted at the time that Dukakis did not relish sharing the spotlight with a young Kennedy, who now occupies Tip O'Neill's old US House seat instead.

Dukakis and O'Neill have one thing in common. Both started out as state legislators and worked their way up the ladder. Yet O'Neill represents precisely the old-style Irish politics of patronage and constituent service that Dukakis set out in public life to oppose.

O'Neill grew up in North Cambridge, an ethnic community, at a time when ``No Irish Need Apply'' signs were still common. His father was a city councilman and later, superintendent of sewers, which gave him control over more than a thousand jobs in the community. ``In those days, local politics boiled down to one thing - jobs,'' O'Neill recounts in his memoirs.

Dukakis, by contrast, was a doctor's son who grew up in Brookline with the offspring of parents who were leaving their immigrant roots behind. His was part of the generation that came of age after World War II and saw politics as a forum for rational policy debate, rather than jobs and services.

O'Neill's congressional district contained Brookline for a while. But he told friends the Brookline folks were just too demanding. ``Yankee goo-goos,'' is how Jerome Grossman, a longtime political activist, describes Brookline's political leaders, as opposed to ward-heeler types ``helping out people'' with whom O'Neill identified.

Not surprisingly, Dukakis and O'Neill came into conflict over the question of jobs.

The Michael Dukakis who became governor in 1974 considered patronage just a few steps shy of outright graft. About that time, the head of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, John Driscoll, came up for reappointment. He was close to O'Neill and a Kennedy loyalist as well. But Dukakis refused to reappoint him, letting him stay on without an appointment instead.

There were other conflicts along this line.

``Dukakis was right, obviously,'' says Barbara Anderson, tax revolt leader in Massachusetts and a frequent Dukakis critic, explaining why the governor's clean-government stand so estranged other state pols. ``It was how he did it. It was the superior attitude he had.''

During those years, O'Neill had similar problems with President Carter. ``We had [House] members who busted their butts campaigning for Jimmy Carter,'' he complains in his memoirs, ``but nobody they knew was appointed to anything.''

It was no secret to State House insiders that O'Neill had no great affection for Dukakis during his first term. This was even though Tip's son, Tom, was lieutenant governor. (Not surprisingly, the governor made him responsible for federal-state relations.) Tom ran against Dukakis in the 1982 Democratic primary. But he became odd man out in the much-vaunted ``rematch'' between Dukakis and then-governor Edward King.

But if Tip O'Neill symbolizes the politics Dukakis set out to oppose, he also represents the kind with which he had to come to terms. One thing the Massachusetts governor learned from his shocking primary loss in 1978 was that a little realpolitik makes the wheels turn.

Just recently, for example, the governor appointed a close associate of archrival Ed King as chairman of his Advisory Committee on Correction. This blunts somewhat the ability of Mr. King, who has joined the Bush camp's anti-Dukakis hit squad, to charge that the Massachusetts governor is soft on crime.

``He was the best thing that Ed King had,'' the Boston Herald quotes one Dukakis aide as saying, speaking of appointee. ``And now we have him. Let Ed King talk about that.''

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