On the night of Nov. 5, 1940, seven-year-old Michael S. Dukakis—future governor of Massachusetts and the Democratic party’s 1988 presidential nominee—set up a card table in the living room of his family’s Brookline home, where he turned on the radio and carefully tracked the results of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s victory over Wendell L. Willkie.
As the former president of his third-grade class at Brookline’s Edith C. Baker Elementary School, Dukakis—an Eagle Scout—said that he had always been interested in politics.
“Every Greek kid knows that democracy began in Athens,” he said.
But Dukakis also credits two prominent political figures from the 1950s as inspiration: the charismatic John F. Kennedy ’40, whom Dukakis saw speak at Harvard Law School, and Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, whose actions “infuriated” him.
After graduating from Swarthmore in 1955, Dukakis served for two years in Korea.
When he returned to Boston in 1957, he said, he was ready to study law.
At the Law School, Dukakis’s classmates were struck by his sense of humor and his involvement with local politics.
Earl J. Silbert, a friend from the Law School, remembers playing tennis with Dukakis and meeting for lunch in Boston Common when they were both working for downtown law firms.
According to Silbert, in those years Dukakis was primarily interested in politics at the local and state level. In fact, Dukakis said, while he was a student at the Law School he commuted from Brookline, where he was heavily involved with urban renewal projects.
Law professor Philip B. Heymann, who also graduated from the Law School in 1960, recalls the remarkable speed with which Dukakis entered local politics after graduation.
“His manner was like it is now,” said Heymann. “He had a confidence and poise about him. It seemed extraordinary to [me as] a law student that someone would be in the legislature so soon.”
Dukakis was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1962 and became governor of the Commonwealth 13 years later.
DIRECTING THE COMMONWEALTH
As governor of Massachusetts, Dukakis is perhaps most fondly remembered for his improvements to Boston’s mass transit system.