BOSTON – A media question about the conspicuous absence at the Democratic National Convention of 1988 presidential nominee and former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis – for whom John Kerry served as lieutenant governor – drew an angry response from a senior campaign adviser, reflecting the party’s apparent sensitivity to the issue.
Talk-radio hosts were barred from having a daily question period at the convention after this reporter asked what Kerry campaign officials considered an impertinent question.
John Kerry was lieutenant governor under Michael Dukakis from 1982-84 but apparently doesn’t want to be photographed with him now.
“You just got us into trouble!” exclaimed the Democratic National Committee’s director of radio communications Candy Stroud.
Stroud said she had just asked Peggy Wilhide, director of communications for the convention, “about having a daily question period for talk radio hosts and she said ‘with guys like you – no questions!'”
The exchange – which was never designated as off-the-record – took place at the Democratic Convention Talk Radio Welcome Breakfast on Sunday morning, attended by 75 of the 150 talk radio hosts broadcasting from the convention.
After Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe addressed the talk-radio breakfast briefly, and left quickly without taking any questions, Tad Devine, the Kerry campaign’s senior adviser, spoke and then recognized this reporter for the following question:
“What place on this convention’s program of principal speakers is being given to the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee and repeatedly elected governor of Massachusetts for whom John Kerry was lieutenant governor?”
Devine, with hesitation – and absolutely no specifics – replied:
“Governor Dukakis will be here and active. He is loyal to Kerry.”
After a brief follow-up question, Devine thanked the reporters for attending the breakfast and was gone.
One talk-show host who sat at this reporter’s table is the former attorney general of Rhode Island, a former nun and parochial school teacher of Devine, Arlene Violet of WHJJ Providence.
Violet described the question about the treatment of Dukakis as the “best question in the house – I wish I had thought of it.” Boston Herald columnist and syndicated talk show host Howie Carr added: “That’s a completely legitimate question.”
As the Washington Post noted in a feature Sunday, “For Kerry, an association with Dukakis could be damaging politically.”
Dukakis has been scheduled to speak at several small events, including receptions for state delegations, but he will not be onstage during the event’s official program, despite the presence of failed party nominees former Vice President Al Gore and former President Jimmy Carter, who lost his bid for re-election.
The Post said Kerry, who served as Dukakis’s lieutenant governor from 1982 to 1984, “is already battling the ‘Massachusetts liberal’ tag Republicans hung on the former governor in 1988.”
Dukakis was relegated to the Democratic sidelines after losing to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush after leading in August by a double-digit margin.
“He presents a challenge for the Kerry campaign: how to involve a man that the candidate and many of his senior aides admire and once worked under, without opening Kerry up to unflattering comparisons,” the Post said.
Rob Gray, who was a spokesman for Dukakis’s gubernatorial successor, Republican William F. Weld, told the Associated Press Dukakis’s “race was an embarrassment for the party.”
“The first rule for the Democrats is to avoid a picture of John Kerry and Mike Dukakis together at all costs,” Gray said.