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What a would-be president does at UCLA

By Christina Jenkins and Kelly Rayburn

Feb. 18, 2004 9:00 p.m.

Professor Michael Dukakis knows everybody’s name.

He’s an engaging teacher, teasing the answers out of his
students even when they don’t quite know what to say.

He calls on them individually.

It was 1988 when this popular professor launched his campaign
for the White House, only three presidents and four administrations
ago. But 16 years is a long time to many of the students taking his
class. Most were still in elementary school when he was a
Massachusetts governor running against former President Bush.

Today, he keeps a relatively low public profile, even as the man
who was his lieutenant governor emerges as the front-runner to
challenge President Bush. Long gone are the days of suits and ties,
nightly news coverage and secret service detail.

He wore Dockers to a recent graduate class on public management,
red plaid sleeves characteristically rolled up almost to the elbow.
He walks through Westwood and across the UCLA campus with little
celebrity. He spends his free time away from reporters and
flashbulbs ““ and instead, with UCLA students.

He doesn’t hold office hours.

“I just tell people: “˜Come on up here, let’s
talk,'” he says.

His hair is styled the same way it has been since he last held
office ““ a side part, trimmed shorter on the sides ““
but with a little more salt and a little less pepper.

Ңbull;Ӣbull;Ӣbull;

Just before 2 p.m. on the Friday after that class, the man who
would have been president exits the public policy building’s
elevator on the sixth floor.

Walking quickly, he greets two reporters waiting outside his
office before he is even halfway down the hall.

After brief introductions, he sets in for an hour-long
interview, answering questions on topics ranging from his
undergraduate students to John Kerry.

It’s Dukakis’ seventh straight winter in Los
Angeles. He teaches two classes at UCLA, one for the School of
Public Policy and Social Research and one for undergraduates
interested in the policy studies minor.

He lives with his wife, Kitty, in an apartment on Kelton Avenue.
It’s a 25- minute walk to campus.

His office is ordinary. Canary Pines grow outside his window, as
they do all over campus. There’s not much on his walls. One
hears the various beeps and chugs coming from the campus shuttles
on nearby Charles Young Drive.

A pair of New Balance tennis shoes lay in a corner. On his desk:
a phone, a few files, a stapler, a printout from Yahoo! maps,
Scotch tape, a box of Godiva chocolates, a desk calender, a
checkbook, a plastic knife.

His bare office reflects his temporary status at UCLA, but he
seems perfectly at home.

He has an air of total confidence. As he talks, he constantly
motions, crossing and uncrossing his arms.

He flips his hand down as he dismisses the war in Iraq as a poor
priority when the country has al-Qaeda to worry about. He does
something of a slow-motion, horizontal karate chop as he talks of
the time Ronald Reagan tried to eliminate Amtrak’s budget.
His hands fly apart ““ as if to say “What gives?”
““ when he talks of the current president giving tax cuts to
the “super rich.”

The phone often interrupts him.

He discusses his undergraduate class: “You have to come to
class ready to participate, otherwise … a), it’s going to
be a little embarrassing and, b) …”

The phone rings.

“… you won’t know what the hell’s going
on.”

He answers: “Hello … hi … hello?”

No one there. He continues where he left off: “But I love
teaching and I love working with these folks.”

Dukakis says his best assets as a professor are his
accessibility and his connections.

“I’m not a guy who’s going to write a great
book. … I’ve done some publishing, but nothing that’s
going to turn the world upside down,” he says. “What I
can offer these students is experience, contacts, the opportunity
to connect …”

Another ring.

“… them up with people in the public sector. I just had
a, just this morning … I’ll give you an example….

He answers: “Hello … who? … at UCLA? … Well,
you’ve got Mike Dukakis. … Yeah … OK … It’s all
right.”

Wrong number.

(He receives two more calls. One about a museum function that
night and one from a former UCLA student now at Harvard Law School,
looking to his old professor for connections that might help him
find an internship in Washington, D.C.)

Dukakis seems to relish the role of the oh-so-normal
ex-presidential candidate. He speaks about how much he learns from
his students. He talks about how his walk from Westwood to campus
keeps him in shape.

He is uninhibited when responding to questions. When asked about
the most important issue in the upcoming presidential election, he
begins talking about terrorism and finishes a few minutes later
discussing the virtue of work.

He’s prepared when asked about his advice for young people
interested in law school: “All I say to them is, “˜Look,
if you want to practice law, you know, go to law school, by all
means, if that’s what you want to do. But if you don’t,
don’t waste three years and thousands of dollars on a law
degree.'”

Shortly thereafter, a visitor comes in to discuss the
night’s plans.

“Are you going from here?” she asks.

“I’m being picked up by my dear wife,” Dukakis
answers.

They talk about directions to the museum ““ and then the
conversation turns to talk about who Dukakis can bring to
campus.

“I want Clinton,” the visitor says.

“Well … I’m cooking lunch for Madeleine Albright
in our apartment tomorrow.”

The visitor is intrigued: “I want her here.”

“I’ll go after her.”

“Please do.”

He says former Secretary of State Albright is in town, that she
called him and asked where they might go to lunch.

“Right in our apartment,” Dukakis says.
“We’ll never get anything done if Albright and Dukakis
are sitting in some restaurant, jeepers creepers … So, I’m
making her Hungarian mushroom soup, making her caesar salad
…”

“Bread?” the visitor asks.

“Huh? Oh, of course, bread. Caesar salad with grilled
chicken and fresh strawberries.”

The visitor: “If you ever want to know the economics of
making bread, he can tell you pound for pound it’s cheaper if
you buy Costco flour, Costco yeast…”

Dukakis has advice on more than just law school: “Buy
yourself a bread maker. My bread is fabulous.”

Ңbull;Ӣbull;Ӣbull;

If John Kerry emerges as the front-runner, will Republicans be
successful in painting him as an out-of-step Massachusetts liberal,
as they portrayed Dukakis?

“No. No,” Dukakis says.

Then, leaning forward, as if he’s telling a secret,
“The reason I lost wasn’t because I was a Massachusetts
liberal. I lost because I ran a lousy campaign.”

Dukakis says the “lesson of ’88″ is that if
someone goes on the attack, you’ve got to fight back. Kerry,
he says, knows that and is ready.

Toward the end of the interview, Dukakis notices a student
waiting outside his door and tells her he’ll be done in a
minute.

It’s now past 3 p.m. His wife will pick him up in two
hours. They’ll head to a museum social function.

Tomorrow is lunch with Madeleine Albright.

But for now, he’s got a student. He knows her name.

“Come on in, Michelle,” he says.

Entering his office, the student asks, “How are you,
professor?”

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