Monday, July 18, 2016

Hotlanta!

1988 was a presidential election year. As a life-long political junkie, Mitch Ogulewicz always participated on some level in presidential politics, dating back to his campaign work in Hungry Hill on the candidacy of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. However, 1988 was a special year, and in one respect it was special for the same reason as the JFK campaign of 1960. As in that election year, the Democrats nominated a candidate from Massachusetts as their presidential standard bearer - Governor Michael S. Dukakis.

Today, the name Dukakis is one of the most reviled in Massachusetts politics. His humiliating loss to George Bush Sr. followed by the deep recession (sometimes called “The Dukakis Depression”) which quickly followed left many Massachusetts residents with a very negative final appraisal of the former Governor. But in 1988 the ultimate disgrace of Dukakis was still in the unknowable future, and locally the Dukakis campaign was the focus of great enthusiasm. That was especially true among the politically connected, who had visions of Washington patronage plums dancing in their heads.

Mitch Ogulewicz wasn’t one of them, but he did have a strong interest in the Dukakis campaign. He had worked for Dukakis in the New Hampshire primary, along with his new friend, freshman School Committee member Michael J. Albano (above). Albano was quickly making a name for himself in the political scene as someone who was very ambitious. His Longmeadow based family was already well known in political circles, with his late father being a prominent labor leader while Albano's mother was a popular behind the scenes activist in a variety of issues and organizations. Albano's Uncle Jim Grimaldi had served as a member of the Springfield City Council and for many years as a State Representative. Albano made no secret of the fact that he was interested in moving up from the School Committee to the City Council in the next election cycle. Eventually he would become Springfield's mayor, and a very controversial one at that. But in the late 80's, Mitch found Albano to be a lively and fun loving companion who knew how to have a good time. As Mitch would soon learn, keeping up with Mike Albano in party mode could be quite a challenge.

Governor Dukakis was scheduled to accept the Democratic nomination in the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia. The official delegates to the convention from Springfield consisted of all of the big name office holders and political celebrities, which did not reach down to include any City Councilors or School Committee members. Yet, as the convention approached and the excitement rose Mitch and Albano decided that they would fly down to Atlanta in spite of that. They had no credentials or passes that would entitle them to attend a single convention function, but in the heady atmosphere of the moment they decided to head south anyway and at least try to enjoy the convention atmosphere.

While at Bradley airport awaiting their flight, Mitch was surprised to see Albano down three Bloody Marys in quick succession at the airport bar. While Albano was known to enjoy a drop or two on occasion, Mitch had never seen Albano drink so much so quickly. “What the hell are you doing?” Mitch asked. “We haven’t even got on the plane yet and you’ve already had three drinks!” It was then that Albano made a sheepish confession - he was terrified of flying! This surprised Mitch, in part because it clashed with the very macho attitude Albano assumed in most situations. Yet the flight went smoothly and Albano was able to contain his discomfort, although not without the help of several more drinks in-flight.

When they arrived in Atlanta, far from being dragged down by the alcohol and the flight, Albano seemed even more energized. They picked up some beer and a rental car and then headed to their hotel, a Holiday Inn far removed from the convention site. But Albano would have none of it, and told Mitch they were going to get a hotel closer to the action. Mitch didn’t see how that was possible. “Don’t worry about a thing.” Albano exclaimed. “Just take us to the Hyatt.” That was the hotel where Dukakis himself and his official entourage were staying. “They’ll never let us through the door!” Mitch protested.

“Leave it to me,” Albano confidently replied, “just drive us there.”

Ogulewicz did as he was told, but wondered whether the liquor was starting to affect Albano's judgement. It was ridiculous to think that they could even get past the doorman. Sure enough, as they reached the Hyatt and parked before the entrance, a doorman stepped forward and asked who they were. To Mitch’s amazement, Albano whipped out his wallet and flashed a badge. “Mike Albano and Mitch Ogulewicz,” he said. “Secret Service.”

Mitch was shocked and alarmed, he felt they couldn’t possibly get away with this! Yet to his amazement the doorman said, “Right this way officers,” and before he knew it they were being escorted through the door of the hotel while their car was being parked by a valet. At the desk, Albano again flashed his badge at the desk clerk. “Secret Service assigned to Governor Dukakis,” Albano said. “We’ll be needing a room for the duration of the convention.” The hotel clerk sputtered with apologetic embarrassment, “I’m terribly sorry officer, but every room in the hotel was booked solid months ago.”

“With no accommodations set aside for the secret service?” Albano exclaimed. “I demand to see the manager!” The nervous clerk disappeared while Mitch and Albano waited at the desk. “Have you lost your mind?” Mitch whispered. “Where did you get that badge?” Albano explained that it was given to him as a result of his job as a state parole officer. Had the doorman or the clerk bothered to look at the badge closely enough they would have seen that it had nothing to do with the secret service, but they had not done so. Soon the clerk returned with the manager in tow.

“I’m very sorry officers,” the manager pleaded, “but our facilities are completely filled. However, I do have a room available until tomorrow morning that is being held for a late arrival. Can I offer you that for now and then we can reappraise the situation in the morning?” Albano acted as though he was terribly put out by this turn of affairs, but said that he would reluctantly accept the temporary arrangement. A bellhop then led them to their room, which must have been originally reserved by someone very special, since it was a luxury suite with a fully stocked bar and a gorgeous view of downtown Atlanta.

That night Mitch and Albano made the rounds of Atlanta’s nightlife, and in the morning prepared to vacate their wonderful room. Mitch figured the jig was up, but Albano told him not to go anywhere, that he was going downstairs to talk to the manager. After several minutes, Albano returned with the bellhop and they were escorted once again to another luxurious room, this one just four floors below Dukakis himself! Once again Albano had parlayed his parole board badge into another suite. It was incredible, they had come to Atlanta at a time when people from all over the nation were congregating for the convention and fighting over hotel space, yet here were Mitch and Albano in the very same hotel as Dukakis himself, and just four floors below the private quarters the Governor and his family would use once they arrived!

Being in the same hotel as Dukakis meant that they were able to come into contact with some of the dignitaries and power players who were also staying at the Hyatt. Among them was Sen. John Kerry’s adviser Mike Whouley. Because of Mitch’s long relationship with Senator Kerry, Whouley gave Ogulewicz and Albano passes aboard one of the special buses that would take a crowd of supporters to greet the Governor at the airport when he arrived in Atlanta from Massachusetts. He also gave them passes to some of the events at the convention itself. When the time came to board the bus, Albano balked. “F*** the bus!” he said, and insisted that they take their car instead. Mitch figured that Albano must have something up his sleeve, but he was afraid to guess what.

Sure enough, when they arrived at the airport, Albano went into his secret service routine again, and it worked as well at the airport as it had at the hotel. Airport employees were only too eager to escort the two “secret servicemen” to the location where Dukakis and his wife were to arrive. It was then that Ogulewicz first realized with dismay that they had lied themselves into some serious danger. As they were being led toward the red carpet where Dukakis was to descend from the plane, two men with dark glasses and suits suddenly approached them.

They were real life officers of the secret service.

“Excuse me gentlemen," one of them asked, "may I see some identification?”

Now it appeared that they were about to be unmasked! Ogulewicz could only imagine what terrible fine or even prison term awaited those who impersonated the secret service. Mitch was speechless with anxiety, but Albano never missed a beat. “Good morning officers,” he said, showing them his badge with perfect calm. “I’m Mike Albano, a parole officer from Massachusetts and this is Mitch Ogulewicz, an elected official from Springfield Massachusetts. We’re here among the dignitaries from Massachusetts to greet Governor Dukakis.”

Mitch silently groaned as he expected the secret service to swarm over them like a SWAT team and to be dragged off to jail.

“Right this way gentlemen,” the secret serviceman commanded, and then led them to a roped off section where a few dignitaries and the press were waiting. It was beyond belief that after lying their way through up to that point, that they had escaped final disaster in the most unexpected way - by simply telling the truth!

But something was still wrong. Ogulewicz realized to his confusion that there was no one else present besides the press. Standing near Mitch was David Broder of the Washington Post. After a short while Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young arrived with his entourage, but beyond that, no one. Where were the busloads of supporters that Mike Whouley said had been arranged to arrive to create a cheering crowd for the TV cameras?

Little did Mitch and Albano know that the site of Dukakis’ arrival had been changed due to air traffic problems and that the busload of supporters had been sent to the wrong location. Soon the Governor’s flight arrived and Dukakis and his wife Kitty came down the steps of the plane. The press was there snapping pictures and yelling questions. Mayor Young greeted the candidate warmly and then, as Dukakis turned to greet his throng of admirers he encountered instead a crowd of exactly two people – Mitch Ogulewicz and Mike Albano! The Governor and his wife shook their hand, a slightly puzzled expression on their faces, and then entered their limousine. Mitch and Albano could only guess what Governor Dukakis must have thought to have found such a welcoming committee, consisting only of the Mayor of Atlanta, the press and two minor public officials from Western Mass!

Later back at the Hyatt, Mitch was surprised to run into another person from the Pioneer Valley. It was not someone he was particularly happy to meet - State Representative Ray Jordan, who was attending the convention in his role as Democrat State Committeeman. Mitch had fought some intense political battles in Springfield with Jordan over the years. One was over Jordan’s election campaign, in which Mitch had supported his opponent Frank Keough and again when Mitch unsuccessfully tried to stop the Indian Motocycle Building apartment project in which Jordan had been a major player.

Yet so far from home, and in the context of the convention, Ogulewicz approached Jordan in a friendly manner. Jordan responded in kind, and before they knew it they were laughing together as friends instead of political adversaries. Mitch confessed to Jordan that he now felt that he had made a mistake in backing Keough, especially since after his defeat Keough appeared to have sold out completely to the city’s political establishment. In the course of the night Jordan asked Mitch if he was going to attend the speech the next day to be given by Jesse Jackson. When Mitch said he was not, Jordan asked if he could have his pass to give to a friend who wanted to go. Mitch was happy to do so, thereby showing that the battles of Valley politics could indeed be put aside in the name of friendship and co-operation, at least if you were hundreds of miles away.

The next night was the most dramatic of the convention, when Dukakis himself would accept the nomination for President of the United States. Donald Dowd had warned Ogulewicz and the others to get to the convention early, since they would shut the doors to all comers, even delegates, once the convention hall reached the maximum number of persons allowed inside by the Fire Marshall. Mitch followed Dowd’s advice, and was glad he did, since it enabled him to observe one of the most moving political events he had ever witnessed.

As Dukakis took the stage to the music of Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America,” the convention exploded into bedlam, with an incredible outpouring of emotion from the Massachusetts delegation. Mitch looked over and saw Jordan aide Henry Twiggs with tears pouring down his face. One would have thought that Twiggs, in his many years with Jordan, would have seen enough to make anyone a stone cold cynic. Yet the image of Twiggs, in tears of joy over the ascension of Dukakis, would stick in Mitch’s mind as one of the defining moments of the convention.

Afterwards, there was a “Boston to Austin” reception for Dukakis and his running mate Texas Senator Lloyd Bentson, for which Mitch did have a pass. Yet somehow in all the convention hullabaloo he had lost it. Arriving without Albano, it was now Mitch’s turn to test his skills at getting past a skeptical doorman. When informed that he could not enter without a pass, Mitch said that he didn’t need one because his name could be found on the VIP list. “And your name is?” the doorman asked. To which Mitch replied, “State Representative Raymond Jordan.” He was then allowed to walk right in. He had a wonderful time partying while posing as the state representative from Winchester Square. The next morning Mitch ran into Jordan as he was preparing to leave. “By the way Ray,” Mitch said as Jordan was saying good-by, “if anyone calls you about attending the reception last night, pretend you’re white!”

With the convention over, Mitch and Albano did a little sight seeing before departing. They visited the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and the tomb of Rev. Martin Luther King. Albano appeared genuinely moved by the King memorial, but still had the presence of mind to say to Mitch, “Take my picture by the tomb will you? I can always use it in some future campaign!” Mitch obliged, but could only smile to himself. "That Albano," he thought, "always the political animal!" Indeed, seven years later, when Albano was running for Mayor, he remembered that photograph and asked Mitch to give it to him so that he could use it in his campaign brochure.

Campaign buttons courtesy of the Ogulewicz Collection

No comments:

Post a Comment