Hosting candidates has its perks

Gannett News Service
Rochelle Sharpe

Washington – First came the carload of free diapers.

Then came the invitations to talk on TV.

Before long, in between pleas for him to run for Congress and calls asking him to lecture at local clubs, Louis Telano started receiving more valuable offers: homes and apartments his son’s family could rent.

All this because Telano agreed to let Gov. Michael Dukakis come to his house for coffee.

Like dozens of other families this year, the Telanos, of Levittown, N.Y., became famous for about 15 minutes when Dukakis Republican presidential hopeful George Bush came calling – with hordes of reporters close by to capture the moment.

For better or for worse, people all across the country who opened their doors to the candidates became props in the campaign and unwittingly invited celebrity to change their lives.

For some, the thrill was great. For others, the experience was bittersweet.

For the Telanos, the attention was overwhelmingly positive. They became heroes in their neighborhood. Their names were on the news. They were mentioned in the presidential debate.

“Everybody was shocked,” Telano, 53, said. “This was national TV!”

The Telanos savored every minute of their experience, although Dukakis arrived at an inopportune time – just after their daughter-in-law had gone into labor.

While Lisa Telano was in the hospital giving birth to a healthy boy, most of the family sat in the living room discussing housing issues with Dukakis, his wife, Kitty, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and John F. Kennedy Jr..

Dukakis planned to unveil a major housing initiative later that day, and he was visiting the Telanos because they dramatized the situation. Not only did the couple live in Levittown – a model community designed for World War II veterans seeking low-cost housing – but three of the Telanos’ grown children live with them because they could not afford places of their own.

The Telano’s son Steven and his wife Lisa Telano live in one bedroom. They had been unable to buy a home for themselves and their new baby, even though they had a joint income exceeding $50,000 a year.

The political entourage stayed for less than an hour. But once the Telanos’ address was printed in the local paper, things started to happen. Strangers drove by, sometimes pointing, sometimes honking their horns.

“People actually stopped at the house and asked ‘Is this where Dukakis was?’ ” said Telano’s wife, Betty, 51.

Back at the hospital, Steven and Lisa Telano received cards and flowers and baby outfits from anonymous well-wishers. And suddenly landlords who had refused to rent to them for months were returning their calls. The couple received five or six offers and settled on one owned by a Greek immigrant.

Not all the people who met the candidates got such a windfall.

Melissa Combs, of Xenia, Ohio, doesn’t even have a picture to remember her visit with Vice President Bush. After she spoke to the candidate about her rape, Combs listened to Bush deliver an address about crime and was told she might be able to purchase a photo of herself with the candidate for $8.50.

Security keeps visit hush hush

Washington – Guess who’s coming for breakfast?

Louis Telano couldn’t tell a soul, not even his wife, that Gov. Michael Dukakis would be their family’s surprise guest.

Secret Service officers, who had cased the Levittown, N.Y., house for security late one night, had asked that the visit be kept quiet. Telano, a police chief in Seagate, N.Y., understood the importance of the request and kept his mouth shut.

“They kept guessing,” Telano said, adding that as his wife and daughter clean the house, all he would tell them was that they would be receiving some high dignitaries.

“I thought maybe it would be a chief of police,” Telano’s wife, Betty, said.

The night before the big visit, Telano told his wife that the Dukakises, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, and John F. Kennedy Jr. would be their guests.

At first, Betty Telano said she didn’t believe it.

“My husband’s a big kidder,” she said.

Eventually he persuaded the family that he was telling the truth.

That night, no one slept well. It was only after the Dukakises arrived that Betty Telano said she felt at ease.

“They made you feel comfortable in your own home,” she said.

After the election, the family will be able to relive their experiences. They captured the event on videotape.

They’ve already watched it 20 times.