Graham's Final Exam

IT is not nice to kick someone while she's down, but I will. Cambridge State Representative Saundra Graham deserved to lose last week's Democratic primary. She ran a lousy, practically invisible campaign against a relative political unknown and lost by 49 votes. She may yet salvage her political career, but not without a long, hard lesson in the ABCs of politics.

Graham, a Cambridge political giant who holds both State House and City Council seats, has been an outspoken advocate of more money for public housing, day care and education--all important grass-roots "people's issues." But Graham forgot the most basic political rule of them all--respecting and staying in close touch with her constituency.

Shortly after hearing the election results, Graham admitted she had run a lackluster campaign by spending very little on publicity and failing to name a campaign manager. Yet the blame falls elsewhere: "I blame it on a lot of things," Graham told the Crimson last week. "I blame it on people's apathy. I blame it on the stories in the newspaper about my children. I blame it on what's been happening in Cambridge..."

Graham has no one but herself to blame. She should have learned her lesson last November. In a hotly-contested City Council election, she barely beat another political newcomer, Jonathan Myers, for a seat she has held since 1976. Instead of recognizing that her political base is fading, Graham blames her near-loss in that election on the complexities of the Cambridge proportional representation system, which encouraged liberal voters to support another progressive incumbent, David E. Sullivan, whom most people felt was facing a more serious challenge.

Next week Graham will officially launch a "sticker campaign" against Alvin Thompson, the victor in last week's primary. This will require voters to affix stickers bearing Graham's name and address to their ballots, a tactic that requires much greater effort on the part of her campaign organization than a traditional contest would have.

HER campaign will be a longshot effort by a candidate who was too lazy to seek the help of her constituency. Now, Graham's campaign has begun to assemble a paid staff and hopes to raise $1000 per day to help win back her disaffected constituency.

Graham's supporters like to think of her as a champion of the underdog, and consider her a leader in the Legislature on crucial issues. They make an effective case that the politically unknown Thompson--a truant officer with the Cambridge School Department--would be far less influential as a legislator because of his pro-landlord position on rent control. As one Graham campaign aide put it, "losing Saundra Graham would be a tragedy for Cambridge."

Despite her record, Graham will have a difficult time trying to convince voters that she is still the effective, responsible, caring elected official her reputation makes her out to be. Her primary non-campaign was a display of arrogance, and it has not gone unpunished.

An example she might look to for encouragement is that of her frequent political ally, Governor Michael S. Dukakis, whose arrogance and overconfidence cost him the 1978 Democratic gubernatorial primary. Four years later, having learned a lesson in humility, Dukakis returned to the State House and revived a dormant political career.

But there is a significant difference. Dukakis had four years to learn his lessons. Graham needs to cram for a final less than seven weeks away.