Michael Dukakis

Michael Dukakis

Michael Stanley Dukakis (pronounced /dʊˈkɑːkɨs/; born November 3, 1933) served as the 65th and 67th Governor of Massachusetts from 1975–1979 and from 1983–1991, and was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1988. He was born to Greek immigrants of partly Vlach origin[1] in Brookline, Massachusetts, also the birthplace of John F. Kennedy, and was the longest serving governor in Massachusetts history. He was the second Greek American governor in U.S. history after Spiro Agnew.

Early career and family

Dukakis's father Panos (1896–1979) was a Greek from Adramytio,[2] in Asia Minor, who settled in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1912, and graduated from Harvard Medical School twelve years later, subsequently working as an obstetrician. His mother Euterpe (née Boukis) (1903–2003) was a Greek immigrant from Larissa;[3] she and her family emigrated to Haverhill, Massachusetts, in 1913. She was a graduate of Bates College.

Dukakis attended Brookline High School in his hometown.[4] He graduated from Swarthmore College in 1955, served in the U.S. Army 1955–1957, stationed in Korea, and then received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1960. Dukakis is also an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America.[5]

First governorship (1975–1979)

After winning four terms to the Massachusetts House of Representatives between 1962 and 1970 (he was also the Democratic Party's nominee for lieutenant governor in 1970[6]), Dukakis was elected governor in 1974, defeating the incumbent Republican Francis Sargent during a period of fiscal crisis. Dukakis won in part by promising to be a 'reformer' and pledging not to increase the state's sales tax to balance the state budget. He would later reverse his position after taking office. He also had pledged to dismantle the powerful Metropolitan District Commission, a bureaucratic enclave that served as home to hundreds of political patronage employees. The MDC managed Massachusetts' parks, reservoirs, and waterways, as well as the highways and roads abutting those waterways. In addition to its own police force, the MDC had its own navy as well, and an enormous budget from the state, for which it provided minimal accounting. Dukakis's efforts to dismantle MDC failed in the legislature where MDC had many powerful supporters. MDC would later withhold its critical backing of Dukakis in the 1978 gubernatorial primary.

Governor Dukakis was an amiable host to President Ford and Queen Elizabeth II during their visits to Boston in 1976 to commemorate the bicentennial of the United States. He gained some notice as the only person in the state government who went to work during the great Blizzard of 1978. During the storm, he went into local TV studios in a sweater to announce emergency bulletins. Dukakis is also remembered for his 1977 exoneration of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists whose trial sparked protests around the world, and who were electrocuted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts fifty years earlier in 1927.

During his first term in office, Dukakis commuted the sentences of 21 first-degree murderers and those of 23 second-degree murderers. Due to controversy engendered by some of these individuals having re-offended, Dukakis curtailed the practice later, issuing no commutations in his last three years as governor.[7]

However, this performance did not prove enough to offset a backlash against the state's high sales and property tax rates, which turned out to be the predominant issue in the 1978 gubernatorial campaign. Dukakis, despite being the incumbent Democratic governor, was refused renomination by his own party. The state Democratic Party machine supported Edward J. King in the primary partly because King rode the wave against high property taxes (along with the passing of a binding petition on the state ballot that limited property tax rates to 2½% of the property valuation– known as Proposition 2½), but more significantly because State Democratic Party leaders lost confidence in Dukakis's ability to govern effectively. King also enjoyed the support of the powerbrokers at the MDC, who were unhappy with Dukakis's attempts to disempower and dismantle the powerful bureaucracy. King also had support from state police and public employee unions. Dukakis suffered a scathing defeat in the primary. It was "a public death", according to his wife Kitty.

Second Governorship (1983–1991)

Four years later, having made peace with the state Democratic Party machine powerbrokers, MDC, the state police and public employee unions, Dukakis defeated King in a 're-match' in the 1982 Democratic primary. He went on to defeat his Republican opponent John Winthrop Sears, who was MDC Commissioner under Sargent, in the November election. Future United States Senator and 2004 Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry was elected lieutenant governor on the same ballot with Dukakis, and served in the Dukakis administration from 1983–85.

Dukakis served as governor again from 1983–91 (winning reelection in 1986 with nearly 70 percent of the vote) during which time he presided over a high-tech boom and a period of prosperity in Massachusetts and simultaneously getting the reputation for being a 'technocrat'. The National Governors Association voted Dukakis the most effective governor in 1986. Residents of the city of Boston and its surrounding areas remember him for the improvements he made to Boston's mass transit system, especially major renovations to the city's trains and buses. He was known as the only governor who rode the subway to work every day.

He made a cameo appearance in the medical drama St. Elsewhere (Season 3, Episode 15, "Bye, George," January 9, 1985). He limps to the hospital desk and says that he has suffered a jogging injury, but Dr. Fiscus (played by Howie Mandel) refuses to believe that he is the governor.

At the close of the governor's tenure, Massachusetts was mired deeply in debt facing a budget shortfall of more than $1.5 billion.