Ted Kennedy (Hon.’70), the longtime Democratic senator from Massachusetts and a former Boston University trustee, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor on Tuesday, spurring speculation about the gap he would leave in state and national politics. Fred Bayles, a College of Communication associate professor of journalism and the director of Boston University’s Statehouse Program, has reported on the 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns; Elizabeth Mehren, a COM professor of journalism, wrote about the Kennedy family for nearly two decades as a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. They shared their thoughts about Kennedy’s illness, his legacy, and his succession with BU Today.
Who Will Take the Senate Seat?
By Fred Bayles The question of who will fill the Senate seat held almost perpetually by the Kennedy family since 1953 will depend on when Ted Kennedy either resigns or dies. Prior to 2004, an empty Senate seat would have been filled by appointment of the governor. But in that year, hedging a bet that Democratic Senator John Kerry (Hon.’05) could be elected president and be replaced by an appointee of Republican Governor Mitt Romney, the Democratic legislature pushed through a law that would require a special election for the seat within 145 days. So, no appointee — which is a bit ironic, considering the political situation today with a Democratic governor. So who would run for the seat? One answer might be — surprise — another Kennedy. Joseph Kennedy III, who served six unspectacular terms as a U.S. congressman from Massachusetts, could follow his uncle into the Senate in a special election. There is some discussion that there would be a gentlemen’s agreement to step aside and allow a Kennedy to hold the seat that has been in the family, with the exception of the two years between 1960 and 1962, since 1953. But the Kennedy family lock on the state Democratic Party is not as strong as it used to be. There has been mild speculation that Governor Deval Patrick, who has not had a happy or successful experience in his two years as governor, might run, depending on when the seat became vacant. If it turns out to be an open field, a number of Democrats could be contenders. State Treasurer Timothy Cahill (CAS’81) has been positioning himself for higher office. So has Attorney General Martha Coakley (LAW’79), who became the first woman elected to the post in 2006. Representative Steve Lynch, a former steelworker turned politician, would be another strong possibility as a candidate. But it seems less likely that the rest of the state’s congressional delegation would give up their senior positions in the House to become the junior senator from Massachusetts. The Republican side of a special election is a bit of a head-scratcher. Mitt Romney’s name is quickly mentioned, but seems unlikely. He failed in a Senate run against Kennedy in 1994, and he angered many of those who voted him in as governor by his absence during the last two years of his term as he ran for president, often making jokes about the liberal state he was from. Besides, he is now busy running for the vice presidential nomination. His lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey, is an unlikely choice. She was soundly defeated by Patrick in 2006. Other possibilities might include former state treasurer Joe Malone and state Senator Scott Brown. Jim Ogonowski, the brother of one of the airline pilots killed on September 11, put up a strong showing last year against Niki Tsongas, the widow of Paul Tsongas, in a special election to fill a congressional seat. But he has already committed to run against Kerry in this year’s Senate race. * Special historical note. When John Kennedy was elected president in 1960, he still had four years to serve in the Senate. Because Ted Kennedy was too young to be a senator, the Kennedys arranged to have a placeholder, Benjamin Smith, appointed to the seat until Ted turned 30, in 1962. He then won a special election to fill the seat. The story indicates the strength of the Kennedys in Massachusetts politics some four decades ago. “A Lion in Winter”
By Elizabeth Mehren For his family, for his fellow Democrats, and certainly for the U.S. Senate, Ted Kennedy is a lion in winter, in spring, in summer, and in fall. He is the last link from his generation not only to his legendary brothers — Jack, the slain president; Bobby, the attorney general, senator, and fallen presidential candidate; and Joe, the war hero — but to his parents, Joe and Rose. With their ruthless ambition, the senior Kennedys set the foundation for an extraordinary American political dynasty. It is perhaps foolish to leave aside Kennedy’s own youthful transgressions. He left Harvard in a cloud of disgrace, and what other American political figure would suffer no consequence if a woman to whom he was not married died tragically in a car he was driving? But Kennedy overcame these obstacles and rose to become one of the most towering figures on the American political landscape. The diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor raises the possibility of an enormous loss — most of all to his family. Ted Kennedy has been the paterfamilias. He has mentored legions of Kennedy children, his own as well as dozens of nieces and nephews. When his mother, Rose, was alive, Kennedy made it his business to be home in Hyannisport, Mass., virtually every weekend. He sang to her and sat with her on the compound’s big seaside porch, long after Rose no longer knew precisely what was happening around her. Every time there has been a death in the Kennedy family, it is Ted who has been dispatched to speak. How many times did we watch him sadly rise to an altar or lectern and pull crumpled notes from his back pocket to memorialize a fallen family member? His illness also stands to create a gaping hole for the liberal wing of the Democratic party. Once it became clear he would not be president himself, he ascended to the status of senior statesman within his party. He was the voice of his party in many ways, and what a voice: always on point, and often quite pointed. His ability to work with members of the opposition also helped make him one of the most effective legislators in recent memory on Capitol Hill. Kennedy built bridges with people like Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican who is as conservative as Kennedy is liberal. In addition, the potential loss of Ted Kennedy represents a sad moment for his constituents in Massachusetts. Part of Kennedy’s strength has been his responsiveness to voters in his home state. Given the looming nature of his presence on the American political landscape — and on our cultural psyche, as a scion of Camelot — the massive media coverage surrounding his diagnosis does not seem out of proportion or ill-placed. Love him or hate him, Americans feel that they know Ted Kennedy. He is a familiar figure, and the nature of his illness is big, troubling news.