Tags: Sasso | What | Doctor | Ordered | for | Kerry

Sasso What Doctor Ordered for Kerry

Friday, 01 October 2004 12:00 AM

He was, and so was I, and then he was again. In recent days, since John has taken the seat next to John Kerry's on the airplane and next to Bob Shrum's in the debate prep room, my phone has been ringing with reporters hoping to find some bad blood lurking in our common pasts, even on background. Nothing doing. Not from me.

I think John Sasso is just what the doctor ordered for John Kerry. If anyone can help John Kerry save himself, it's Sasso.

I first met John Sasso and his sidekick, Jack Corrigan, in the spring on 1980 in New Jersey. They were widely hailed as being among the best organizers to come out of the very well-organized Kennedy defeat in Iowa that year. Joe Trippi was one of the lieutenants, if that gives you an idea, and John and I were the only ones who wore shoes. Prior to that, John had worked for a Massachusetts congressman, Gerry Studds.

Jack looked about 17 at the time (he was only a little older), and he cursed me out because I was from the Washington headquarters and had been paid more or less throughout the campaign. John, hearing the cursing, and having been told that Washington was sending some highfalutin' woman, rescued me, told Jack he had to be nice and gave me a desk.

John always had his note cards. He always kept lists. Preferably not very long ones. He always wanted to check everything off by the end of the day. In a world in which people lose it regularly, behave like children, scream and yell, John was - even in those days when we were all kids - a disciplined grown-up, smart, tough and always on message.

Two years later, I helped John and Jack put together the Dukakis "rematch" campaign against Ed King, who had beat him for Massachusetts governor four years earlier. It was a near perfect campaign, strategically, tactically and organizationally.

Two years later, I was the one who helped plot Geraldine Ferraro's rise to the vice presidential nomination, but once she was selected, I put in the call for John and Jack to come to Washington, move into the house where I was staying and pilot her, a first-time national candidate, through the intense public scrutiny. I didn't even begin to know at the time the "good experience" I promised John when I called him.

And then four years later, it was our turn. It was John's dream, as much as Michael's, I think - he started the Dukakis campaign. Dukakis fired him in September 1987 for what would now not even qualify as stunt: slipping a tape to a reporter of a speech by a British politician embarrassingly similar to one given by a fellow candidate. How shocking. I begged Dukakis to forget about it. He wouldn't.

I replaced John and went on to lead the Dukakis campaign to victory in the primaries. But by July, when Dukakis canceled his post-convention swing and ordered his plane back to Boston so he could deal with a budget crisis in the statehouse, he was no longer listening to me, or any of my team at the campaign. Nor was he interested in the advice of anyone else I could think of to bring in. What about John? I asked, as I had many times over the last year.

John came back in time for Labor Day in 1988, which is just around the time he started to travel with John Kerry 16 years later. But there the similarity ends. In Dukakis' case, for all John's skills, it didn't matter - the country took Dukakis' measure and made its judgment.

Kerry has yet to be judged, at least not finally. What he needs, and he has been getting from John, is both because Michael's problems were ones that, ultimately, even John's substantial skills could not address. Dukakis didn't need discipline - he was disciplined. His problem wasn't strategic or tactical - the public came to know and understand that Dukakis was more liberal than they were, and saw certain values questions differently. They were right. There was nothing discipline or good tactics could do to change that.

John Kerry is different. John Kerry's problems in this race are precisely the kind that John knows how to solve - or rather, how to help the candidate solve - better than anyone I know. Let the Clintonistas brag all they want. John is in the room, no doubt with his cards, or the computer equivalent. The candidate could not be in better hands.

107-102

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He was, and so was I, and then he was again. In recent days, since John has taken the seat next to John Kerry's on the airplane and next to Bob Shrum's in the debate prep room, my phone has been ringing with reporters hoping to find some bad blood lurking in our common...
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2004-00-01
Friday, 01 October 2004 12:00 AM
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