Scene and Herd: Tales of Beepers, Cookies, Cameras, & Checks

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ATLANTA--Amid the thousands of journalists covering the Democratic National Convention lurked an educator in disguise, capturing the week's events on videotape for a Maryland school district.

As he stood in line with a television camera on his shoulder, waiting to obtain a floor pass, David Frey said his tape would be used in a high-school government course. He works full time as a television producer for the Montgomery County Public Schools outside Washington.

By following the Maryland delegation and taping convention highlights, Mr. Frey said, he hopes to show students "not only how the political process works but also how they can get involved.''

Much has been made during the Presidential campaign of Michael S. Dukakis's relatively humble lifestyle, which apparently includes mowing his own lawn with a manual mower.

But the many stories written about the Governor, who commutes to work on the subway, did not fully prepare the National Education Association's president, Mary Hatwood Futrell, for a recent visit to the candidate's Brookline home.

"We were driving through a pretty modest area, with older, smaller houses, and I kept asking the driver, 'Are you sure you know where you're going? Are you sure we're not lost?''' she recounted here during a relative lull at the convention. "And then, when he pulled up to a modest little duplex, I couldn't believe it. I said, 'This is where the Governor lives?'''

"I figured we had better clean up the place a little,'' she said Mr. Dukakis told her as he pointed out flowers and shrubbery he had planted once he realized his home would be subjected to close scrutiny.

"But he told me how he decided to keep the tomato plants in the front yard,'' Ms. Futrell said. "Now, we had tomatoes when I was a child, but not in the front yard. That's pretty down-home.''

Ms. Futrell said the candidate and his wife, Kitty, sat with her at a "typical, redwood-type picnic table'' where they ate cookies and talked about education.

She said Mr. Dukakis discussed scholarships for prospective teachers, a program to assist parents in saving for college expenses, and "stabilizing'' federal education funding. He was "honest'' about the slim chances of winning major increases in deficit-ridden times, but promised to "do everything in his power,'' she said.

Ms. Futrell said Mr. Dukakis also promised that education groups would have a voice in choosing a Secretary of Education, but mentioned no particular candidates.

The NEA and its chief rival, the American Federation of Teachers, have not always seen eye to eye.

So, while representatives of both unions said it was a coincidence, reporters and politicians still joked about the inconvenience when the NEA's only delegate caucus turned out to be scheduled at the same time as a posh reception hosted by the AFT.

And the inter-union rivalry raised its head later in the week when an AFT spokesman noted pointedly that "almost all'' union groups had secured space in the Hyatt Regency Hotel because it was, to her knowledge, the only unionized hotel in downtown Atlanta. The NEA was headquartered in the nearby Westin Peachtree.

A hot topic of conversation at both unions' caucuses was how and where delegates could pick up their checks, for the organizations financed each member going to Atlanta to the tune of $1,000.

The day before the convention officially kicked off, Ms. Futrell explained to N.E.A. delegates that they could not get their checks until that day's meeting was over. It seems the union had to schedule at least one meeting in order to pull some of the money from its general funds, instead of taking it all from the coffers of its political-action committee.

"You just hand your [delegate] survey over and get your check,'' she said, adding that it was the best way yet devised to ensure a 100 percent response rate.

The AFT delegates were issued paging devices as well as checks, and the room resounded with beeps as the new toys were tried out. But the devices--which served as conduits for messages from union representatives to their delegates--apparently did not work as well as anticipated.

"If you're having trouble with your beeper, bear with us,'' a union official said at the next caucus. "I understand that sometimes people sitting next to each other have gotten different messages, but we're working on it.'' --JW

Vol. 07, Issue 39 Extra Edition

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