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Candidate Bill Bradley a crowd-pleaser at MIT

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley, who routinely received the plaudits of enthusiastic SRO audiences in Madison Square Garden in an earlier life, was a crowd-pleaser once again at the Wong Auditorium on September 21.

Mr. Bradley, who played professional basketball for the New York Knicks from 1968-77 and served as a US senator from New Jersey from 1979-97, was relaxed and informal as he answered questions for almost an hour following brief introductory remarks. The turnaway crowd of about 400 -- primarily students from MIT, Harvard and Tufts -- applauded enthusiastically when the session ended.

The event, originally scheduled for Harvard, was sponsored by Techies for Bradley (TFB), formed last spring. Junior Christopher D. Smith, a founder of the group, introduced Mr. Bradley.

Mr. Smith, a political science major from Alexandria, VA, met Mr. Bradley last April at the New Hampshire Democratic convention and was inspired to help organize TFB when he returned. "I was sold on the whole campaign at that point," said Mr. Smith, who worked as an intern in House minority leader Richard Gephardt's office last summer, a position he learned about as a result of his connection to the Bradley campaign.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Bradley teased Mr. Smith about his political ambitions, noting that he had not posed with Mr. Bradley in any photographs. "The first thing you learn when you are running for office is never to have your picture taken with someone who's taller than you are," said Mr. Bradley, who is six-foot-five.

Mr. Smith, who later noted that he heard Mr. Bradley use the same anecdote on other occasions referring to other people, demurred. "To run for office, you must have a message," said Mr. Smith, who is five-foot-seven. "I'm not sure I have one yet. I plan to go to graduate school. Perhaps I'll develop one there. Then I would consider running."

Mr. Bradley said major issues in his campaign would be confronting racial inequities and creating a plan for broader participation in the nation's unprecedented prosperity. In response to a question, he stressed the importance of attracting bright, dedicated young people to teach in urban schools.

Knowing this is Celtics country, Mr. Bradley told a basketball anecdote in which the hero was former Celtic John Havlicek. He quoted Toni Morrison and Albert Einstein and described himself as a "jock and an intellectual with a small 'i'," noting that his wife, a professor at Montclair State University, is the true intellectual in the family.

The audience, including more than 100 who watched on closed circuit in the Tang Center's lobby, appeared to love the message and the man. "He's got that Midwestern casual, laid-back style where he just sort of goes out there and talks to people," said Mr. Smith. "Yet he also has gravitas."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 29, 1999.

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