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Spying Incident Fuels Dukakis-Simon Hostility

February 04, 1988|DOUGLAS JEHL | Times Staff Writer

DES MOINES — Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis, pressed to defend his campaign against charges of mismanagement stemming from an apparent attempt by a high-ranking aide to spy on the campaign of Illinois Sen. Paul Simon last week, turned the focus back on his rival Wednesday, further fueling animosity between the two campaigns.

In the incident, Bill Taylor, who formerly served as the campaign's Southern coordinator, walked into a Cedar Rapids field office of Simon and volunteered to make phone calls. Simon workers became suspicious when Taylor asked to see a campaign memorandum, recognized his name--which is well known in Democratic political circles--and reported the incident to the Dukakis campaign. Taylor resigned the next day.

Third to Resign

The spying incident had received little attention until early this week, when aides to the campaigns of Simon and Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt pointed out that Taylor had been a paid, high-ranking aide to Dukakis and not a volunteer, and noted that he had been the third top Dukakis aide to resign after charges of misconduct.

Pressed by reporters at a news conference Wednesday to explain how such an incident could happen, Dukakis said: "In a large campaign, every once in a while people make foolish decisions. All I'm saying to you is that as far as my campaign is concerned, we've set high standards."

Though it prides itself on such integrity, the Dukakis campaign is considered vulnerable to charges of underhanded practices because of the distribution this fall by campaign manager John Sasso of a videotape showing a speech by Democratic candidate Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. that plagiarized from an address by British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. That incident led to the resignation of Sasso and Paul Tully, the campaign's political director.

Dukakis charged that the Simon campaign had been guilty of similar misconduct against the Dukakis campaign last December in an incident in Ames, Iowa, but that his campaign had believed that such incidents should be dealt with quietly and privately by the campaigns involved.

Reported to Be Students

Dukakis and his aides said they saw "no reason" to provide details of the events in Ames and directed inquiries to the Simon campaign. A staffer there said the incident had involved college students who were working as volunteers to the campaign.

But Dukakis' comments further inspired finger-pointing between the Dukakis and Simon campaigns that began Tuesday when the rival campaign managers exchanged hostile notes.

Simon campaign manager Brian Lunde first telefaxed an angry letter to Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich that cited the Taylor incident and another involving an attempt by Dukakis staffers to copy names in a sign-in book in Simon's Boston office. Lunde demanded that the Dukakis campaign take steps to make clear that dirty campaigning practices were not sanctioned and would not be tolerated.

"When these practices come to light again and again," Lunde wrote, "we have to wonder if there is something in the Dukakis campaign's organizational structure that is keeping the troops from getting the word."

Estrich then released an angry response calling Lunde's letter "a foolish and desperate effort to derive some political advantage by manipulating the media." Estrich said Simon staffers and volunteers had "on a number of occasions in the Midwest and New England" volunteered at Dukakis offices and leaked erroneous information to the press.

"In each case we have dealt with the incidents privately and confidentially so as not to inflict unnecessary harm on people," Estrich wrote. And that is what a strong and confident campaign does."

Repeat Negative Tone

Lunde responded late Tuesday with a conciliatory letter saying the Simon campaign had "put these episodes behind us." But after the Dukakis statement Wednesday, Simon aides reiterated the negative tone.

"Given the checkered history of the Dukakis campaign so far, I'd say the burden of proof is on them, not us," said Simon media adviser David Axelrod.

The news conference focusing attention on the Taylor incident followed a Dukakis speech on economics at Drake University. The speech had been billed as new, but in fact it recycled themes and phrases that have been hallmarks of the campaign since the Massachusetts governor first declared his candidacy at Drake last April.

"The press wants a new speech," said issues director Vicki Rideout, "but we figure, if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

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