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Then & Now: Michael Dukakis

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Michael Dukakis walks to his Northeastern University office in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Michael Dukakis
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(CNN) -- Michael Dukakis became the first Greek-American to be nominated for the presidency when he led the 1988 Democratic effort to win the White House following the popular presidency of Republican Ronald Reagan.

Today, Dukakis divides his time between Northeastern University in his native Massachusetts and the University of California, Los Angeles, where he teaches political science and public policy.

"I can bring to a classroom a wealth of information, because I have been there," Dukakis told CNN. I encourage all of my students to nurture their love of public service, but I tell them if they want to run for president to talk to me first."

Indeed, Dukakis has much to teach his students about the realities of political life.

Dukakis was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1933 to Greek parents who had both emigrated to the United States. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1960, and following a stint in the U.S. Army, began serving in local Brookline government.

By1974, he won the state's gubernatorial seat.

But Massachusetts was suffering from record unemployment and a mountainous deficit problem, and Dukakis was forced to make hard choices to aid the state in its recovery.

Those choices largely cost him re-election, and in 1978 he was defeated in the Democratic primary by Edward King.

But Dukakis was not out of the game, yet.

In 1982, he recaptured the governor's seat, this time holding on to it for an unprecedented third four-year term.

The National Governors' Association honored Dukakis in 1986, naming him the most effective governor in the nation.

By 1988, the stage was set for Dukakis to ascend to the White House. He won a tough primary, sharpening his political teeth against several well-heeled challengers, including Al Gore, a senator from Tennessee, and Gary Hart, a former senator from Colorado.

"The best America is a nation where the son of Greek immigrants, with your help, can seek and win the presidency of the United States," Dukakis told a crowd of supporters during his contentious presidential campaign.

As Dukakis squared off against Republican nominee and then Vice President George H.W. Bush, his campaign hit a few rough patches.

He struggled with image problems as the Bush campaign attacked him for being too liberal. For his part, Dukakis called himself a "proud liberal" and attempted to link the Bush campaign to one of the Reagan administration's biggest scandals -- the Iran-Contra affair.

One of the most pivotal moments of the presidential campaign came during the second debate between the hopefuls.

CNN's Bernard Shaw asked Dukakis, a well-known opponent of the death penalty, if he would support a death sentence for the killer if his wife were the one raped and murdered.

Dukakis's rote answer to such an emotional question -- that he opposed the death penalty because he did not consider it a deterrent to crime -- sounded unfeeling to some.

Others criticized the question itself as unfair.

In November 1988, Dukakis lost the presidential election to Bush, and he returned to Massachusetts to finish his term as governor.

Still, Dukakis counts losing the presidential election as one of his biggest disappointments.

"I think about it every morning when I open the newspaper and read about the current President Bush," he told CNN.

Soon after the election, Dukakis's wife, Kitty, went public about struggling with alcohol, diet pills and clinical depression. She is writing a book about her personal struggles and the work she's found with the refugee and immigrant organization Relief International.

Today, Michael Dukakis, 71, spends half of each year teaching on the West Coast to be closer to his children who live in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver. Dukakis just welcomed his sixth grandchild into the family earlier this year.

For him, being in the classroom is a way to reconnect with young, politically active people. Dukakis enjoys nurturing a love of public service in his students.

And he is still passionate about some of the issues he addressed when he was governor: universal health care and affordable public transportation.

"A kid of immigrants becomes a governor and runs for president. A true American story," Dukakis said. "I'm just a guy who loves his country. I was fortunate to be involved in public life for more than 30 years. Lots of us have dreams; I have lived mine."

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