Radio listeners who tuned in to WRKO-AM yesterday evening heard a lot of static, but it wasn't because of technical difficulties. It was Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and one of his most vocal critics, talk show host Jerry Williams, trying to talk over one another.
The exchange between Dukakis and Williams, a populist critic of the governor and an opponent of big government, grew heated over the issues of cronyism in state government, the proposed New Braintree prison site and Dukakis' political style.
Williams, referring to a recent Boston Globe article, accused the governor of packing the state payroll with former employees of his ill-fated presidential campaign, saying that "all the campaign people are back."
Dukakis, sounding indignant, replied "that's absolutely incorrect, Jerry. That's an outrageous statement. Of course they're not."
"Over at the MWRA [Massachusetts Water Resources Authority]," Williams insisted, "every person over $40,000 is [politically] connected."
"That's absolutely untrue." Dukakis said.
"How can I prove this to you?" Williams asked, raising his voice.
"You can't because it isn't true. It's not how we pick people these days and you know it," Dukakis replied.
Williams also questioned Dukakis about his choice of New Braintree as the proposed site of a new state prison facility. He accused Dukakis of ignoring the town's angry residents, who dogged Dukakis during his presidential campaign and held State House rallies to protest the decision.
Dukakis said he has not met recently with residents of the rural, central Massachusetts town because "everytime I have this discussion, my motives and my integrity are questioned," rather than the merits of the proposal.
Williams repeatedly attempted to get the governor to explain the perception that he was an "iceman," an issue President Bush used against him in the presidential campaign. When Williams asked Dukakis why he returned to work the day after his election defeat instead of taking a vacation, the governor replied matter-of-factly, "I wanted to get to work on the budget."
Dukakis appeared live on the program from 5 to 6 p.m. yesterday, in time for the large audience of commuters returning from work. Williams' program is a frequent forum for Dukakis-bashing by both the host and his listeners. The program was the centerpiece of a successful 1986 referendum campaign to repeal the state's mandatory seatbelt law. The governor opposed the referendum.
Near the end of the interview, Dukakis recalled that he frequently listened to Williams early in his radio career at WIP in Philadelphia. Dukakis, who was then a student at Swarthmore College, said he appreciated Williams' attacks on then-Sen. Joseph McCarthy.