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Silber Skirts Trouble At Kennedy School Lunch

By Erik M. Weitzman

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John R. Silber stayed out of trouble in a brief visit to the Kennedy School of Government yesterday, avoiding--for the most part--the type of outspoken commentary on Massachusetts politics that have become the hallmark of his campaign style.

Appearing before about 100 people in the K-School's penthouse, the Boston University president offered no new candidates for what he has termed, "the Silber shocker of the week"--a reference to a string of controversial remarks which several critics have described as insensitive.

During the last month, Silber has characterized Massachusetts as a "welfare magnet" for minorities, charged Jews with racism, compared the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's speaking style to that of Adolf Hitler's and suggested that alcoholism is a less serious problem than drug addiction.

Eschewing apologies for such remarks, Silber said, "It's hard these days to find any group of individuals who aren't...subject to outrage."

Rather than using remarks "manufactured by media consultants," Silber said that he writes his own speeches and often speaks off-the-cuff--a practice which sometimes lends itself to misinterpretation.

"My approach is certainly more daring," said Silber. "I want to find out whether it is possible to be elected while retaining some cognitive element in a campaign."

Silber said that balancing the state's budget and strengthening its educational system would be his top priorities. He said that his experience handling B.U.'s $600 million budget had given him the expertise to tackle such issues.

Silber added that his "outsider" status will make him attractive to the electorate. "I think the people are genuinely fed up with the way things are being run," said Silber. "Eighty-three percent of Democrats whom I polled were disgusted with the direction in which state government was going."

Silber said the campaign has proved to be more challenging than he expected, but he's in it for the duration. "I'm Johnny in the first reader and the book is a little bit longer than I thought it was...but I'm studying hard," he said.

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