Mark Wilson/Globe Staff
BROOKLINE -- If he was having a difficult day, former Governor Michael Dukakis tried not to show it.
He took his wife, Kitty, for outpatient knee surgery. He taught a political science class at Northeastern University, and spoke at a campus event about health care as a basic right.
Then he graciously fielded questions on what it was like, once again, to be a contender but not quite make it.
"Hey, after you've run for the presidency of the United States..." Dukakis said, before trailing off.
Dukakis, 75, was for several weeks the most often-mentioned candidate for appointment by Gov. Deval Patrick to temporarily replace the late Edward M. Kennedy in the US Senate until a special election is held Jan. 19 . But this morning, Patrick announced that he had made a different choice, naming Paul G. Kirk Jr., a former Democratic National Committee chairman and the favorite of the Kennedy, to take the seat.
"If it had to be somebody else, believe me, this was the guy," Dukakis said in an interview at his Brookline home. "He will hit the ground running, probably even faster than I would because he was down in Washington. He's going to be fine."
Dukakis has experienced plenty of disappointment before -- he suffered a bruising defeat in his first bid for re-election, in 1978, and then was crushed by George H.W. Bush in the presidential campaign of 1988. But he remains widely popular among Massachusetts liberals, many of whom were rooting to see him in the public square once more.
"The reality is, among Democrats he's very popular," said Philip Johnston, former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party and Dukakis' secretary of health and human services, who was among those initially lobbying for Dukakis to win the appointment.
Dukakis had already been vetted by the Patrick administration and was among those under serious consideration when Kirk's name surfaced as the preferred candidate of Kennedy's widow and sons.
"I think the governor -- in a politically tenuous re-election position -- caved to pressure from the Kennedys," said one Dukakis fan, Sam Solomon, a fund-raising and organizational development consultant from Brookline who worked on Dukakis's presidential campaign. "Not catering to the family could hurt him next year. Snubbing Mike comes with no real political cost."
Republicans -- including GOP gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos -- had been relishing the idea of reviving Dukakis politically so they could remind voters of Dukakis' worst moments as a presidential candidate and link the current Democratic governor to old images of "Taxachusetts."
"Go ahead -- make my day," Mihos was quoted as saying of the prospect of Dukakis' appointment.
Some political observers were unhappy that Patrick had let Dukakis' name be bandied about publicly if he did not intend ultimately to appoint him.
But Dukakis said he has no complaints.
"In the last analysis, it's the guy in the governor's office who's got to make this decision. I have a lot of respect for Deval and you've got to make a choice," said Dukakis. "You do this almost every day and you're disappointing somebody when you pick somebody else -- but that's not a problem with me."
Dukakis, now gray and subdued, adopted the tone of an elder statesman as he spoke about Kirk, whom he had helped become chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
"I have enormous respect for him," Dukakis said. And then, speaking of the period when Kirk headed the Democratic Party and Dukakis was the party's presidential nominee, he said, "He did a fabulous job, and I regret to say I kind of screwed it up at the end."
Dukakis, who now teaches political science to about 65 undergraduate and graduate students at Northeastern, said he is happy to continue his academic life.
"I'm a very pretty steady guy," he said. "I take my professional work seriously."
Does that mean he has no regrets about his latest moment as a contender?
The former governor looked down at his kitchen table quietly.
"That's that," he said.
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more