[Sidebar] The Worcester Phoenix
November 12 - 19, 1999


Taking sides

In Massachusetts Democratic circles, the Bradley vs. Gore battle looks like a rematch of Tsongas vs. Clinton. Will the outcome differ?

by Seth Gitell

It looks a lot like 1992. Political operatives who were with the aspiring Bill Clinton are now with his heir, Al Gore -- and those who sided with Paul Tsongas are with Bill Bradley. Michael Whouley, who has been at the center of Massachusetts politics since the late 1970s -- and who was one of the few local pols to sign on with Clinton over Tsongas in 1992 -- is a senior Gore adviser. In 1993, Whouley founded the political-consulting firm the Dewey Square Group with Charles Baker and Charles Campion, who delivered New Hampshire to Michael Dukakis in 1988 and are informally advising the Gore campaign this time.

The union of the Bradley campaign with the Tsongas camp was obvious last Friday at John Hancock Hall during Bradley's announcement of his Massachusetts campaign co-chairs. The lanky former senator publicly embraced Tsongas's widow, Nicola, not once, not twice -- but three times. Tsongas joined fellow chairs James Shannon, Harvard professor Cornel West, and former Boston Celtic John Havlicek in heading up Bradley's Massachusetts campaign. (West and Havlicek did not attend the Hancock event.)

There was an almost spiritual quality to all this. The laurels of Tsongas, who died of cancer almost three years ago, were bestowed upon Bradley, the Ivy League Rhodes Scholar who not only made it to the Olympics, but also played in the NBA. Although there are some Tsongas veterans in the Gore ranks, the message of Niki Tsongas's presence was clear: Bradley has been anointed with the spirit of the Lowell Greek. All the people closest to Tsongas are with Bradley: not just Niki, but also his twin sister, Thaleia Schlesinger, and his former law partner and campaign manager, Dennis Kanin. (To offset this notion, on the same day as the Bradley event the Gore campaign announced that Dennis Newman, a former Tsongas aide, would direct Gore's Massachusetts effort.)

Figuring out who's siding with whom in Massachusetts isn't just inside baseball for political geeks. As far as national Democratic politics are concerned, Massachusetts is ground zero. This is where the talent comes from -- Massachusetts has generated national political players for generations, be they elected titans like President John F. Kennedy or House Speakers John McCormack and Tip O'Neill or backroom Washington barons such as Congressman Joseph Moakley and Senator Edward Kennedy. As for foot soldiers, the Ed Jessers, Skinner Donahues, and Jack Flahertys are almost too numerous to count.

And Massachusetts's close proximity to New Hampshire, the site of the first primary, only enhances its importance. Campaigns base people, organizations, and material in the Bay State because it allows them to exceed the amount they are allowed to spend in New Hampshire without violating federal spending guidelines. "This place tends to take its politics a lot more seriously than other parts of the country," says former governor Dukakis. "We still think grassroots politics makes a difference."

The big question, of course, is whether 2000 will end with Gore beating Bradley, just as Clinton trounced Tsongas in 1992. In that sense, it's fitting that Bradley chose to announce his Massachusetts co-chairs in the old Hancock building. It was here, in the 1970s, when the new John Hancock Tower was shedding plate-glass windows, that a young, opportunistic Michael Whouley rushed to pick up the shards of broken glass and attach them to pieces of wood, which he then sold to tourists as souvenirs. It is such pluck and ingenuity that Gore will need if he wants to head off the stronger-than-expected Bradley.

Who's with Gore?

The candidate who first gained support in Massachusetts was, not surprisingly, the vice-president, and the organization that first signed on was the Dewey Square Group. That group began taking shape not in 1992 but in 1988, with Dukakis. Not only did Whouley, Campion, and Baker enter the political establishment, but fundraisers such as Steve Grossman and Alan Solomont -- now key Gore moneymen-- made their debut on the national political scene. It's now commonplace to make light of Dukakis, but this condescending revisionism underestimates the impact his 1988 campaign had on national politics. It was Dukakis, not master-of-triangulation Clinton, who was the first Democrat to break with the liberalism of McGovern and Mondale. What's more, Clinton benefited in 1992 from the structure that Dukakis built in 1988. Even whiz kid George Stephanopoulos, who won the hearts of political junkies everywhere with his performance at Clinton's side in 1992, made his entry to national politics via Dukakis and the "Greek mafia."

Campion, Baker, and Whouley, all grassroots experts, were central to the Dukakis team. Campion's life in politics began during his West Roxbury childhood, when he helped on the campaign of his grandfather, State Representative Edmond J. Donlan (who served from 1941 to 1962). He worked on Dukakis's first campaign for governor and gained enough of a reputation to land a job with Mondale, then the vice-president, in 1978. After stints with the Democratic National Committee and the Mondale presidential effort, Campion served as the political director of Dukakis's presidential campaign. Baker, for his part, had played a role in Dukakis's 1982 comeback try, while Whouley had worked on the campaign of the would-be lieutenant governor, John Kerry. When Dukakis started campaigning for president, Baker got the job of running New Hampshire. Whouley ran Kentucky.

In 1992, Whouley became one of the first operatives to sign on with the Clinton campaign, as its national field director. Only in his early 30s, he was already a hardened political battler. A graduate of Boston College and BC High, he'd made his name locally during Joseph Timilty's unsuccessful run for mayor in 1979, when he came in to the Timilty campaign offering to handle Dorchester's Ward 15. A field coordinator named Thomas Menino oversaw Whouley's work.

"He told us he had a lot of friends and that he could get a lot of votes for us," Mayor Menino recalls. "He was able to produce -- even in a losing campaign. He had it in his blood."

Whouley's instincts were winning in 1992, when he orchestrated a Clinton victory in the Florida straw poll during the primary campaign. Baker, who joined the Clinton team during the general election, remembers Whouley's early decision to go with Clinton as a risk that paid off. "Michael made a conscious decision to be with Clinton at a time when a lot of people were with Tsongas," he says. Whouley is credited with getting Clinton on television early on the night of the New Hampshire primary and setting the tone of how the election results were interpreted. Remember that Tsongas actually won, but it was Clinton who garnered attention as the "Comeback Kid."

The 1992 New Hampshire primary brought Whouley and company into contact with another key member of the Gore team -- Kiki Moore. Moore, who served until last week as the press secretary of Gore's 2000 campaign, is also a member of the Dewey Square Group. She met Whouley while serving as a flack for the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the organization that helped Clinton craft his approach to politics. After Baker, Campion, and Whouley formed Dewey Square, they asked Moore, a Texan, to join the firm's Washington, DC, branch as a communications expert. Now Whouley has gone to Tennessee with the Gore campaign, and Moore will do the television talk-show circuit on Gore's behalf in Washington.

Whouley -- who recently moved to Washington and is married to Sally Kerans, a former Danvers state representative -- was one of only a handful of Gore advisers to survive a recent campaign reorganization. "There's nobody you'd rather be in a foxhole with than Michael Whouley," Campion explains. Suggests Menino, who has endorsed Gore: "Michael's the one who will put the common sense into the campaign and get Gore back on track." Whouley's track record, meanwhile, speaks for itself. When Gore seemed in danger of losing the Massachusetts straw poll over the summer, Whouley personally handled the vice-president's political operations during the event. The result: Gore won by a 3-to-1 margin.

Although Whouley is the highest-ranking Bostonian in the Gore camp, he is not the only one. In keeping with Gore's tendency to cultivate "white ethnic" state legislators, he has forged close relationships with two Massachusetts state senators -- Stephen Lynch of South Boston and Marc Pacheco of Taunton. (Gore's similar relationship with New York City councilman Noach Dear has already been widely reported.)

Gore and Lynch met at the time of Lynch's first St. Patrick's Day breakfast. President Clinton had injured his leg and was scheduled for surgery as the breakfast took place. Gore personally called Lynch to give him the news. Then Gore called in to the breakfast. The next year, Gore attended in person. The personal phone call began a relationship that means a lot to Lynch. "For the vice-president to do that was very much appreciated," Lynch says. "I was a new senator at the time. He made sure I wasn't embarrassed."

The relationship paid dividends for Gore as well when Lynch, a former ironworker, rallied labor support for his presidential candidacy. Lynch persuaded the important Massachusetts delegation to the national AFL-CIO convention to push for the early endorsement of the vice-president this fall. The national labor endorsement gave Gore's campaign a boost at a time when it was flailing.

Pacheco's connections to the vice-president are twofold. He was an early member of the DLC and served as its Massachusetts co-chair in 1992. And Pacheco, who is Portuguese, has a close relationship with Gore's campaign chairman, Tony Coelho. Pacheco, who also helped organize Clinton's 50th-birthday party in Boston, even served as a delegate to the 1998 World Expo in Lisbon, Portugal, a project headed by Coelho. (In recent weeks, Coelho's involvement in the project has drawn criticism over the hiring of his niece to the effort and his receipt of a private bank loan at the fair.)

Both Lynch and Pacheco are assisting Gore in a grassroots effort in New Hampshire. Lynch is helping to organize a phone-bank and canvassing effort. Pacheco hopes to bring people from his own district to New Hampshire to help Gore. He is also involved in the fundraising effort.

Away from the gritty world of grassroots politics, the world of ideas has also brought forth local support for Gore. One of his oldest and most loyal allies is Martin Peretz, the Cambridge-based editor-in-chief and chairman of the New Republic. Peretz, a legendary instructor at Harvard when Gore was a student, encountered Gore during the latter's freshman year. Peretz helped introduce Gore into intellectual circles and is still said to ply Gore with advice, especially on foreign policy and the Middle East. Gore is also talking with the Reverend Eugene Rivers, reflecting the vice-president's new emphasis on the importance of public-private partnerships in the area of social services. And Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. is expected to get involved with the Gore campaign soon. (Meanwhile, Bradley's pick of Cornel West, another local black intellectual, opens him up to sniping from Gore partisans who find the goateed author too radical. "West may be the last remaining socialist in American life, so he doesn't bring a lot of comrades with him," Peretz says. Bradley, for his part, shrugs off such criticism: "I'm my own man. I always have been.")

Who's with Bradley?

If Gore's support reflects the Dukakis-Clinton political establishment, Bradley's rests on two planks -- the Tsongas idealists and the liberal outsiders eager to find a way back into power. These two strands met in early 1999 when James Shannon, the former congressman and state attorney general, came together with Michael Goldman, a former aide to Dukakis and Bobby Kennedy. The pair arranged for a covert meeting of Bradley supporters. Goldman, now a political consultant, calls them "the risk takers, the bomb throwers, and the fire eaters." Bradley turned to Tsongas's sister Thaleia and to John Havlicek to introduce him at his first fundraiser in Massachusetts.

Since the undercover meeting became public, Bradley supporters have come out of the closet. Both Shannon and Goldman contend that a Bradley tidal wave is building just under the surface. The Hancock event was a strong show of local support: 60 fans seated in chairs, young people of different races and backgrounds, Shannon and Tsongas praising the former Knick.

James Segal, a Boston attorney who formerly served as the treasurer of the Vault -- a now-defunct elite group that helped navigate the business community's relationship with city and state government -- is raising funds for Bradley. A Tsongas delegate in 1992, Segal argues that Bradley is drawing support from people who are generally disaffected and has a better chance of beating the Republicans come fall.

If anything is likely to be a source of support for Bradley, it is disgust with the style of constant campaigning that Gore has appropriated from Clinton. At the New Hampshire debate last month, Gore pounced on the chance to say that Bradley's medical plan will cost too much. The charge has become so widespread that a middle-school student at Roxbury's Nativity Prep asked Bradley about it at a campaign event last Friday. Tsongas was seriously damaged by Clinton in a similar way during the 1992 Florida primary, when Clinton alleged that Tsongas would cut Social Security and harm Israel. So far, Bradley has let Gore's carping go unanswered; he hopes his high-minded approach works to his advantage in a year when the public is disgusted with Clintonesque "War Room" tactics.

But the memory of those ugly days is clearly part of what's motivating the Tsongas camp. Niki Tsongas, for one, is hoping that Bradley fights back. "The issues are so complicated. It's very inappropriate to resort to scare tactics," she says. Asked about Clinton's Florida effort, which her husband always resented, "You kind of learn from it," she says. "As Bill [Bradley] says, `when you get elbowed, you elbow back.' "

No one is saying that Whouley and his friends ran the Florida primary for Clinton. But there is a feeling of guilt by association. Whouley and his friends helped bring about the political end of Paul Tsongas.

For all the similarities between Bradley-Gore and Tsongas-Clinton, Bradley supporters such as Dennis Kanin point to two key differences. One is a campaign calendar that has moved key primaries -- Massachusetts, New York, California -- ahead of the Southern ones, where Gore is sure to do well. The other is that Bradley, unlike the quixotic Tsongas, is adept at raising money -- stockpiling more than $10 million in cash on hand so far. Goldman points to Bradley's ability to outraise Gore in California and New York as a sign that Bradley can win the nomination. He adds that people might support Gore, but not with enthusiasm.

The Bradley supporters have their arguments, but Gore's people have them too -- especially, they say, a short campaign calendar that makes it harder for a challenger to get and sustain momentum. Sure enough, it will be a race. But it seemed telling that in both of Bradley's recent campaign events, local elected officials were hard to come by. Everyone says politics is a different game now -- that the old machines have broken down. But with the Gore people bringing in busload after busload of Massachusetts volunteers and preparing to get ugly at a moment's notice, the Tsongas-Bradley idealism may evaporate into the ether. It's wise to be wary of anyone who was ready to run to Copley Square when glass was falling from the Hancock Tower.

Seth Gitell can be reached at home page | what's new | search | about the phoenix | feedback |
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