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's beginning to look 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. Niki Tsongas joined fellow
chairs former attorney general 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, Massachu-setts 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 Corrigans are almost too numerous to
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 Massachu-setts 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
"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
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
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
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's gang 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 important 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
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 sgitell[a]phx.com.