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Patrick win evokes Cyndi Lauper, Laser Tag, Nintendo and 1986

Clockwise from left: the case of 'Family Ties,' a 22-cent stamp, and Nintendo.
Clockwise from left: the case of "Family Ties," a 22-cent stamp, and Nintendo.

It was the year Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone's empty vault, and George Lucas produced the film -- gulp -- "Howard the Duck."

A baby-faced Michael J. Fox, before Parkinson's disease or stem cell controversies, won an Emmy playing a rabid Republican teenager named Alex P. Keaton on the sitcom "Family Ties."

The term "Big Dig" didn't exist and not a single spade of earth had been turned to bury the hulking Central Artery under downtown Boston.

It was 1986. Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis & the News, and Lionel Richie topped the music charts. Nintendo, Laser Tag, Rainbow Brite and the movie Pee-Wee's Playhouse were the rage. And before Deval Patrick's sweeping victory today, it was the last time Massachusetts voters elected a Democrat to the governor's office.

Twenty years ago, the "Massachusetts Miracle" economy was at its zenith. The Bay State was Silicon Valley before there was a Silicon Valley, with local companies such as Wang, Digital, and Data General making mini-computers before the PC became king. (A company named Microsoft was just going public).

"We were on top of the world," said Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, who calculated that a 1986 dollar would be worth 54 cents today. "The economy was booming and spending growth was in double digits."

First-class stamps cost 22 cents, a gallon of gas was $0.93. The authorized state budget -- which hit $25.7 billion for fiscal 2007 -- was $8.8 billion.

While the economy soared, the fortunes of the state Democratic Party could not have been brighter.

"That was one of my easiest elections -- in 1986," recalled Michael S. Dukakis, who coasted to his third term, winning 69 percent of the vote.

It was a tough year for the state GOP. Republican Gregory Hyatt had to bow out of the governor's race when it was revealed that he had a habit of appearing naked in his office. Former state senator Royall Switzler jumped in the race as a patriotic Vietnam veteran, but then it came to light that he never served in Vietnam. Finally, it was George S. Kariotis whose name appeared on the ballot. He won just 31 percent of the vote.

With his 38-point victory, Dukakis turned his eyes toward the presidency.

In 1986, the yet-to-named "Big Dig" was just an idea and US House Speaker Tip O'Neill was gearing up for a showdown with President Reagan over a transportation bill that would ultimately fund it. The plan, to bury that elevated highway in a series of tunnels was estimated to cost taxpayers $2.5 billion. (The price tag for the Big Dig has now hit $14.6 billion and climbing.)

It was the year that Larry Bird led the Boston Celtics to its 16th and last NBA Championship with a 4-2 game victory over the Houston Rockets.

Like the New England Patriot's 46-10 embarrassment in the Super Bowl and the Red Sox' epic collapse in the World Series, the Massachusetts economy eventually tumbled. Dukakis lost his 1988 run for president to George H.W. Bush.

Then on Nov. 6, 1990, the Democrats' 16-year hold on the Massachusetts governor's office came to end. Republican William F. Weld narrowly beat Democrat John Silber.

Since Weld's inauguration in January 1991, a Republican has occupied the corner office for 5,818 days. In that time, the Massachusetts state archives have added more than 10,000 cubic feet of documents to its collection. Most people now carry cellular phones. The state launched a website. Computers are portable and have wireless Internet connections. The Red Sox won the World Series.

When Dukakis walked out of governor's office in 1991, he never thought a Democratic drought would last this long.

"But I never had doubts we'd make it back," Dukakis said.

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