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Senate Legend Kennedy Succumbs At 77 Senate Legend Kennedy Succumbs At 77

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NJ Daily / OBITUARY

Senate Legend Kennedy Succumbs At 77

August 26, 2009

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the last of the Kennedy brothers and one of the last lions of the Senate, died Tuesday night of brain cancer at the age of 77.

"Teddy" Kennedy leaves a famously mixed legacy. For decades a key champion of American liberalism, Kennedy used prolific legislating and deal-making skills to help craft the modern American welfare state. But the heir to his assassinated brothers' Camelot legacy was dogged by personal problems and fell short in his presidential ambitions.

 

Kennedy tapped his larger-than-life status both to move liberal legislation and for decades to lead a life that defied standard rules of personal conduct. He died without passing universal health care legislation, the white whale of his career.

"We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever," the Kennedy family said in a statement. "We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all."

President Obama, who happened to be vacationing near the Kennedy family home, said "for five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts."

"An important chapter in our history has come to an end," Obama said. "Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time."

Kennedy, who harbored his own presidential aspirations, served 47 years in the Senate after winning the seat in a special election in 1962. Only Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., served longer.

Born in 1932 as the youngest child of the powerful Joseph Kennedy Sr., Kennedy had a gilded path to power. Admitted to Harvard University despite mediocre grades, he was kicked out for two years when a friend was caught taking a test for him.

Following law school, Kennedy in 1962 used his family's connection to win the Senate seat his brother John F. Kennedy vacated for the White House.

After the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Ted immediately became a potential presidential candidate and an unsteady carrier of the already mythologized Kennedy mantle.

He stumbled quickly. In July 1969, after leaving a late-night party with Mary Jo Kopechne, a former employee of his brother Robert, Kennedy drove off a bridge on an island off Martha's Vineyard.

After escaping from the submerged car, Kennedy failed in attempts to rescue Kopechne, he later said. But he did not report the incident until the next morning, after police found the car with her body inside.

Chappaquiddick, which Kennedy never fully explained in public, haunted his political career and hampered his presidential ambitions, though it did not thwart them.

Kennedy was pressed to run for president in 1968, 1972 and 1976 and abandoned attempts in 1984 and 1988. His one serious run came in 1980 when he challenged President Jimmy Carter from the left.

Trounced in early primaries, Kennedy stayed in the race and gained strength late. He lost but weakened Carter ahead of his general election defeat by Ronald Reagan.

Kennedy's challenge to Carter solidified his standing as leader of the American left. So did a speech at the 1980 Democratic convention, where he famously concluded, "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

In linking his family's legacy to American liberalism, Kennedy departed from the records of his father and brothers, who had often worked to distance themselves from their party's left wing. But the link reflected Kennedy's own political inclinations and the popular view of the family that he promoted.

Kennedy adopted civil rights, immigration and healthcare reform as issues early in his Senate career. He helped to pass an immigration reform bill in 1965. He pushed universal healthcare plans throughout the 1970s.

After the defeat of President Clinton's healthcare plan in 1994, Kennedy expanded healthcare coverage through smaller steps like passage of the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

In 2003 he worked with President George W. Bush on a Medicare drug bill, though he voted against the final version. Despite his illness, Kennedy remained involved in healthcare reform efforts this year under President Obama.

Kennedy's death leaves universal healthcare advocates without one of their most powerful champions, though they can evoke Kennedy in their push to pass a bill fast.

Kennedy sponsored more than 2,000 bills in his career. Hundreds became law. Major legislation he backed includes the Criminal Code Reform Act of 1979, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the COBRA Act of 1986 giving workers temporary healthcare when they leave jobs and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Observers attributed Kennedy's legislative success to relationships with fellow lawmakers, dogged promotion of issues year after year and his renowned staff. By the 1980s, Kennedy, helped by a handful of top aides, oversaw about 100 people, including committee staff. Many, drawn by his fame, worked under significant pressure to prepare legislation and to aid constituents, for which his office was also known.

According to many accounts, Kennedy built relationships with fellow senators through his gregarious personality, by contacting colleagues during personal difficulties and by sharing political credit.

Kennedy was known for hard work. He took a briefcase of work home at night and was considered well-briefed on his issues. He regularly consulted panels of top experts on issues he was involved in. While presidents came and went, Kennedy used longevity and the consistency of his policy goals to chip away at causes.

Celebrated for his ability to cut deals and get along privately with political foes, Kennedy in public statements was a partisan warrior who, aides conceded, engaged in occasional demagoguery.

In opposing Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination in 1987, Kennedy seemed to exaggerate in claiming on the Senate floor that "Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids ... "

The speech and the Kennedy-led defeat of Bork's nomination enraged conservatives and accelerated partisan fights over judicial nominees and other issues.

Kennedy worked to boost his family's legacy, promoting relatives' political careers and painting heroic pictures of his brothers in public remarks. He cited their deaths in times of political trouble.

After Chappaquiddick he said publicly that he had wondered, in the hours before he reported the accident, if "some awful curse did hang over the Kennedys."

When Mitt Romney, who sought Kennedy's Senate seat in 1994, challenged a Kennedy real estate deal in a debate, Kennedy, in a line prepared by staff, said his family had "paid too high a price" to profit from politics.

His death leaves the Senate without its best-known, second-longest serving member. Massachusetts must now hold an election within 120 days to fill a seat a Kennedy has held since 1953, with the exception of two years.

In a letter released last week, Kennedy urged state leaders to change the state law to allow Gov. Deval Patrick to name a temporary replacement, but no action has been taken on that request.

Kennedy was presiding over the Senate in November 1963 when he learned his brother had been shot in Dallas. He was in San Francisco campaigning for Robert Kennedy when that brother was assassinated in 1968.

Ted Kennedy himself nearly died with fellow Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind., and Bayh's wife in a June 1964 plane crash in heavy fog on their way to a political convention in Springfield, Mass. Killed in the crash were Kennedy aide Edward Moss and the pilot, Edwin Zimney, who had agreed to fly the plane after another pilot refused due to the weather.

Kennedy suffered fractured ribs, a collapsed lung and three fractured vertebrae. The back injury gave him lifelong back pain, a stoop and hobbled gait that grew notable as he aged.

Late in 1982, after he announced he would not run for president in 1984, Kennedy and his estranged wife, Joan, filed for divorce after 24 years of marriage.

Kennedy appeared to hit a personal low in the 1990s when press reports appeared increasingly on his drinking and womanizing. The public received an embarrassing account of Kennedy's drunken behavior during the 1991 rape trial of his nephew William Kennedy Smith, though the senator was not accused of a crime.

But Kennedy rallied, remarrying in 1992. In 1994 he overcome initial fundraising woes and tight polls to handily defeat Romney, who later became Massachusetts' governor, in a rare tough race in Kennedy's career.

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