IT'S ALWAYS A TREAT to hear Michael Dukakis lecture on ethics. The extremely beloved former governor of Massachusetts popped up at the Democratic State Convention in Worcester to preach one of those self-righteous sermons we've all missed so much.
"It's time we got somebody back in the governor's office," Dukakis declared, "who can not only pass the smell test, but can make us proud of our state government again."
Again? Make us proud of our state government again? Nobody's been proud of Massachusetts state government since John Volpe was in office. What in the name of the Massachusetts Miracle was Dukakis alluding to?
Why, himself, of course. Dukakis made us proud, see, because things were different when he was in charge. "We weren't selling liquor licenses at $ 30,000 a pop," he said on Saturday. That was a jab at the Weld administration, which granted a special license to the owners of Martignetti's Liquors one day after they hosted a fund-raiser that raised $30,000 for Weld's campaign committee.
True enough -- contributing to the Dukakis campaign couldn't get you a license to sell beer. What it could get you was a high-ranking post in the Dukakis administration.
Want to be commissioner of labor and industries? George Ripley did. In 1983, the Bricklayers Union -- G. Ripley, Treasurer -- made a generous contribution to Dukakis' campaign. Within a few weeks, the sitting commissioner was booted from office and Ripley was installed in his place. How could the governor who was making us proud of our state government have guessed that Ripley would have to resign under a conflict-of-interest cloud, and be fined for putting his daughters on the agency's payroll?
"My chief fund-raiser," Dukakis told the Democrats in Worcester, "was not making thousands of dollars lobbying the administration he was raising money for."
Quite right. Dukakis' chief fund-raiser, Bob Farmer, was raising tens of thousands of dollars in campaign gifts from entrepreneurs whose business depended on good relations with the state.
Like who? Like the Milton developer who wangled millions in low-interest loans from state agencies under Dukakis . . . and returned the favor by raising pots of money for Dukakis' presidential efforts. Like the Waltham businessman who won lucrative contracts to operate bookstores at eight state colleges . . . and in turn amassed more than $2 million in contributions for the Dukakis campaign.
Anything unethical about all that backscratching? Farmer didn't think so: "I don't see anything improper in reaching out to a network of friends and professionals," he said in 1987.
No, sirree. It's only improper when Republicans do it.
Listening to Dukakis get pious in Worcester, you couldn't help feeling nostalgic. It evoked memories of his second inaugural address: "It is the governor, above all, who must set the tone, who must send out the message that corruption and dishonesty will not be condoned or tolerated any time, any place, by anyone."
It evoked memories of how he impugned the ethics of Ronald Reagan and George Bush: "There's an old Greek saying -- the fish rots from the head first."
So many memories.
Memories of Dukakis' personnel chief, who lobbied on behalf of a Worcester developer from whom he'd received a $10,000 loan -- interest-free. (He resigned).
Memories of Deputy Public Safety Secretary Robert Cunningham, who was buddy-buddy with a convicted loan shark and shared the apartment of a man arrested for dealing cocaine. (He resigned).
Memories of Nelson Barner, the crook Dukakis picked to head the MDC Police, who was convicted of perjury and conspiracy in the massive "exam-scam" police fraud case. (He went to prison).
Memories of Richard Rust, chosen by Dukakis to head the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism -- a man so creative at filing expense claims that he was convicted for it in 1992. (He was sentenced to house arrest).
Memories of all those sterling Dukakis college presidents:
- Gerry Indelicato, the thief/forger/liar who was elevated from the governor's personal staff to the presidency of Bridgewater State College. (Prison).
- Brunetta Wolfman, the president of Roxbury Community College who somehow misplaced $ 700,000. (Resigned)
- Francis Pilecki, the Westfield State College president whose alleged sexual molestation of a male student led to a payment by the state of $ 10,000 in "hush money" to the student's family. (Resigned).
- Irving Buchen, the other Westfield State College president -- the one who used student trust funds as his own personal piggy bank. (Resigned).
- Roland Boachea, the Salem State College president/deadbeat dad who forgot to make 11 years' worth of child support payments to his former wife. (Resigned).
"Somebody," admonished Dukakis in Worcester, "who can not only pass the smell test, but can make us proud of our state government again." It may not be clear who meets that test. But it's certainly obvious who doesn't. I mean, didn't.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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