The Lion and the Legacy

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Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and her uncle Ted.

Senator Edward Kennedy’s diagnosis of brain cancer, in May 2008, touched off an extraordinary medical battle—and a veiled rivalry over who might succeed him as symbolic head of America’s fabled dynasty. Would it be R.F.K.’s oldest son, Joe? J.F.K.’s daughter, Caroline? Or the senator’s second wife, Victoria? An excerpt from the new book Ted Kennedy: The Dream That Never Died reveals the family’s shifting dynamics, the confrontation that led Caroline to drop her political bid, and the triumphant, grueling winter of the last Kennedy brother.

It started as a fairly typical day for Ted Kennedy. Early in the morning on Saturday, May 17, 2008, his Portuguese water dogs, Sunny and Splash, bounced into his bedroom and woke him up. Groggy but obliging, Kennedy swung his legs over the side of the bed and, struggling against age and gravity, lifted himself to an erect position—or as nearly erect as his old bones would allow. He threw on some warm clothing, then headed out the door into the chill, salty air for a stroll on the beach with the dogs.

In front of the Kennedy compound, he lobbed a tennis ball into the water, and Sunny dived in after it. Suddenly he felt his jaw tighten, then noticed his left arm become numb. Dear God, don’t let me go like Dad, he later recalled thinking. He had a horror of having to spend his last years in the same condition as his paralyzed father, Joseph P. Kennedy, fully conscious but imprisoned in a useless body. According to one family friend, he fell to the sand and realized he could not move. The dogs reacted with frenzied yelps and barks, and several workmen, hearing the commotion, came running to the senator’s aid. They carried him back to the house and summoned Victoria Reggie Kennedy. When Vicki saw her husband’s condition, she let out a scream. Then she phoned 911.

At 8:19 a.m., the dispatcher at the Hyannis Fire Department received an emergency call from 50 Marchant Avenue in Hyannis Port. The famous Kennedy address set off frantic alarms, and within minutes help arrived. Paramedics lifted the overweight senator onto a gurney, hooked him up to oxygen, and slid him into the back of an ambulance. The ambulance and a police cruiser raced down South Street to Cape Cod Hospital.

“Vicki Kennedy knew in a split second that whatever was happening was grave,” reported Lois Romano of The Washington Post. “As the wife of one of the most iconic and admired politicians in modern history, she also knew it would play out in public. Knowing the media would be tipped off in minutes because of [her] 911 call, Vicki Kennedy worked her cell phone at her husband’s side. Before the ambulance pulled up, she had arranged for the Senator to be transported from the Cape to Massachusetts General Hospital, called his Senate staff to put in place a crisis management team, summoned family members and notified his closest friends.”

In the emergency room at Cape Cod Hospital, the doctors examined Kennedy for almost two hours and concluded that he had suffered two seizures, little electrical storms in the brain, rather than a stroke, which kills brain tissue and can lead to permanent paralysis. He was put back into the ambulance for the three-minute trip to Barnstable Municipal Airport. There a twin-engine medevac helicopter was standing by, ready to airlift him to Boston.

In less than half an hour, the chopper touched down on the roof of Massachusetts General, where Dr. Larry Ronan, the senator’s longtime primary-care physician, was an internist. By late afternoon Kennedy’s condition had stabilized, and immediate family members began to arrive at the hospital. The senator’s daughter, Kara, who had been battling lung cancer since 2003, flew up from Maryland. His son Teddy junior, who had lost a leg to cancer as a child, came from Connecticut. His younger son, Patrick, who suffered from a plethora of health problems, ranging from asthma to a non-cancerous tumor that had been removed from his spine, flew in from Washington, D.C., where he served as a congressman from Rhode Island.

Soon a dozen or so members of the extended Kennedy family circle—the senator’s friends, aides, political associates, and hangers-on—were all crammed into the hospital room, and the atmosphere in his V.I.P. suite began to resemble that of an Irish wake or, perhaps more accurately, one of those medieval paintings that depict the death of a great prince. Should it come now, the senator’s death would not be sudden and violent, like those of his three brothers—Joe junior in a plane accident during World War II, Jack and Bobby at the hands of assassins. Rather, it would be like those “good deaths” during the Middle Ages, which were performed, in the words of the French historian Georges Duby, “as on a stage before many spectators, many auditors attentive to every gesture, to every word, eager for the dying man to show what he is worth.”

The Question of Succession

In that solemn setting, almost the first thing on everyone’s mind was who would lead the Kennedy family after the senator was gone. Since none of his children appeared to be up to the job, the first person who had to be considered a serious candidate was Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the well-known conservationist and the third of 11 children born to Ethel and Robert Kennedy. Bobby junior suffered from a vocal disorder called spasmodic dysphonia, which causes involuntary movements of the muscles in the larynx. It gave his words a tight, strangled sound and might have hindered his effectiveness as a family spokesman. More important, Bobby junior had devoted his life to the Riverkeeper organization and other environmental causes, showing far less interest in strictly political issues.

Bobby junior’s eldest sister, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, once described by Time magazine as “the most promising of the next wave of political Kennedys,” had fumbled her big chance by losing her 2002 bid for governor of Maryland. What’s more, it was hard to imagine Kathleen as head of the most prominent Catholic family in America after she had been picketed for her pro-choice and pro-contraceptive stances.

That left three Kennedys from three different branches of the family as the most likely heirs apparent: Robert’s oldest boy, Joseph Kennedy II; Ted’s wife, Vicki; and John’s daughter, Caroline, the last living member of the Camelot family.

The senator was particularly fond of Caroline. With her thick reddish hair, uninflected speaking voice, and tomboy manners, Caroline resembled Ted’s sisters more than she did her mother, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. And Caroline’s biting wit and cool demeanor reminded Ted of his brother Jack. At 50, Caroline was at loose ends. Her children—Rose Kennedy Schlossberg, 19; Tatiana Celia Kennedy Schlossberg, 18; and John Bouvier Kennedy Schlossberg, 15—no longer required her constant attention. There were rumors that her marriage to Edwin Schlossberg, an interactive-media designer, was strained, but friends said that Caroline and Ed were more or less content with their marital arrangement.

Since the death of her brother, J.F.K. Jr., Caroline had become a more visible public presence. She’d helped raise tens of millions of dollars for the New York City public schools. She’d recently made a joint appearance with her uncle Ted at the annual Profile in Courage Award ceremony, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where her mere presence was enough to stir nostalgia for Camelot. An intensely private person, Caroline had been press-shy most of her life, but she’d largely overcome that affliction during her numerous campaign appearances for Barack Obama. Many people thought Caroline was deeply ambivalent about politics. And perhaps she was. However, she was also devoted to her family’s tradition of public service.

Political ambivalence hardly described the attitude of Victoria Reggie Kennedy, who was only three years older than Caroline and the second serious contender for family leadership. The daughter of a Louisiana judge, Vicki was a lawyer. Her marriage to Ted, 16 years earlier, had been a political statement in itself. “When Ted married Vicki, everything changed in his personal and political life,” said a Kennedy-family lawyer. “She gave him purpose and focus. He has said many times that she saved his life, and he means it quite literally.”

The senator was unaccustomedly introspective when it came to his feelings about Vicki. So many people in his family had been taken from him, he said, that he wondered “whether I’d ever really become as attached and committed as I have to Vicki.” He added, “She has made an enormous difference in terms of my own happiness.”

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Ted and his current wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, Hyannis Port, 1996.

Ted’s view of Vicki bore a striking resemblance to his idealized version of his mother, who also came from a political family. And, indeed, in many ways Vicki filled the role of the all-controlling Rose Kennedy. Vicki helped the senator clean up his image when she married him, and she had been on his case ever since. She had been instrumental in transforming Ted from an agitated, fretful, fugitive figure with much to hide to a more fully developed human being.

“[Vicki] helps prep him for talk shows, works on his speeches and played a pivotal role in his decision to endorse Barack Obama, whom she’s been helping court Catholic votes,” wrote Lois Romano in The Washington Post. “Her political skills and grace are such that there has been quiet speculation that she could succeed her husband in the Senate one day.”

The hospital room throbbed with undisguised rivalry between Vicki and Joe Kennedy II, the third serious contender for the mantle of family leader. Notorious for his short temper, Joe descended on the hospital wearing his signature custom-made cowboy boots. He was the oldest male Kennedy of his generation, a birthright he never let his siblings and cousins forget. Years earlier, when Teddy junior had contemplated running for the seat in the Eighth Congressional District of Massachusetts, once held by his uncle Jack, Joe Kennedy II was “pissed,” according to a family friend, that his younger cousin would even consider running without first consulting him.

In the end, Joe claimed the congressional seat as his own. In 1986 he was elected to the first of six terms and might have gone on to become governor of Massachusetts if he hadn’t been sidelined by scandal. First, his former wife, Sheila Rauch Kennedy, wrote a book accusing him of trying to bully her into having their 12-year marriage annulled by the Catholic Church. Then it was revealed that his brother Michael, his campaign manager, was having an affair with his family’s teenage babysitter. Joe withdrew from the 1998 gubernatorial race and, for the time being at least, from active politics. Since then, he had kept his name politically alive in Massachusetts by running the Citizens Energy Corporation, a company that delivers low-cost heating oil to the poor.

Of all the members of the extended family, Joe had been the most vocal in his opposition to his uncle Ted’s marriage to Vicki. “Joe led the campaign against Vicki, openly mocking her and generally acting as though she was little more than a servant,” said a friend of the Kennedy family who was present in the senator’s hospital room. “Everybody else took their cues from Joe. He was always the ringleader, who decided who was good enough and who wasn’t. It had been that way since they were all kids.”

“Joe vied with Vicki over who was in charge,” said another family friend. “He ordered a larger flat-screen television be delivered so they could watch the Red Sox game, and called out to [the restaurant] Legal Sea Foods, ordering a feast of lobster, clams, and shrimp. Mass. General is used to the Kennedys’ bluster, but this got over the top. The senator has a very serious, probably life-threatening condition, and his family is throwing a party. The combination of so many famous faces and all the merrymaking disrupted the entire floor. Patients as well as staff were crowding around, trying to get a glimpse. One of the head nurses stepped in and spoke with Joe, who told her in no uncertain terms to mind her own business.”

The commotion grew louder as more Kennedy-family retainers squeezed into the already overcrowded hospital suite to pay their respects to the ailing senator. “The elephant in the room was the notion of succession,” recalled one. “The question was: Who was in line to take over for Ted, not just, or necessarily, in his Senate seat but as head of the family? There were a lot of very strong characters in that hospital suite, and they are all fiercely competitive. Vicki is seen by all as an interloper, and she is deeply resented by Ted’s children and many of the nephews. Joe, who sees himself as the only serious heir apparent, particularly loathes her control over his uncle and hence the family. Joe inherited his father’s ruthless gene. He is nothing if not aggressive. And anybody who tries to get between him and Ted’s Senate chair is in for a fight.

“In addition, Joe has long resented Caroline, whom he views as haughty. Caroline is far and away the richest member of the clan. After all, she inherited money from her grandfather, her father, her mother, and her brother. Her fortune is a source of unbridled envy and a favorite subject of teasing by Joe and his brothers—a mild annoyance that Caroline sloughs off with an arch half-smile.

“But against the backdrop of Ted’s sudden deterioration, Caroline’s cousins are suddenly looking at her askance, apparently wondering if she is considering declaring herself the heir to Ted’s throne. And Joe is suspicious and envious of the way Ted fawns over Caroline. He doubtless worries about how much influence she has over him. The strangest thing was how Caroline, Joe, and Vicki avoided making eye contact with one another, as though the flying daggers would wound. There is no doubt that what Joe fears most is Ted surviving but being physically and mentally incapacitated. That would let Vicki rule in his name for God knows how long.”

Brain Surgery

Within days of Ted Kennedy’s seizure, a dozen media trucks were staked out in front of Massachusetts General Hospital. The senator’s spokeswoman sent a statement to the assembled reporters saying that doctors had found a tumor on his left parietal lobe, a section of the brain involved in aspects of speech and the ability to understand the written word. A preliminary biopsy identified the tumor as a malignant glioma, an incurable brain cancer, and further tests showed that the senator had the most aggressive form of the disease—one that had an average survival period of fourteen and a half months. “It’s in a bad site in his brain,” said a New York neurosurgeon who had treated many similar cases. “In the senator’s age group, it’s usually incurable. I’m not aware of anyone over the age of 65 who has survived. I’d give him no more than six months to live.”

Doctors’ predictions about such matters are notoriously inaccurate. In any case, the senator was determined to soldier on. Upon his release from the hospital, he told a group of reporters that it was unlikely that he would be up to racing his 50-foot Concordia schooner, the Mya, in Cape Cod’s annual Figawi competition on Memorial Day weekend. However, he sailed the Mya in the final leg of the regatta, making the 20-mile voyage in 2 hours and 28 minutes and coming in second in his division.

“It felt great to be out there today,” Kennedy said. “It’s always a good day to go sailing.”

At first, brain surgery did not appear to be a viable option. “The tumors have these tentacles,” Dr. Julian Wu, a neurosurgeon at Tufts Medical Center, in Boston, told the Cape Cod Times. “It’s kind of like an octopus. You might be able to take out the body [of the] octopus, [but] there might be little tentacles that grow back.”

The senator had a good deal of experience dealing with cancer. When his son Teddy junior was diagnosed at the age of 12 with bone cancer in his right leg, Kennedy consulted a group of specialists on the boy’s treatment. After Teddy junior’s leg was amputated, he received two years of an experimental form of chemotherapy. When the senator’s daughter, Kara, had what some surgeons deemed inoperable lung cancer, he invited a group of experts to discuss her case. They advised surgery, and Kara was still in remission five years later. And so, once again, the senator convened a meeting of experts, a so-called tumor board.

“The meeting on May 30 was extraordinary in at least two ways,” wrote Lawrence K. Altman, M.D., the chief medical correspondent of The New York Times. “One was the ability of a powerful patient—in this case, a scion of a legendary political family and the chairman of the Senate’s health committee—to summon noted consultants to learn about the latest therapy and research findings. The second was his efficiency in quickly convening more than a dozen experts from at least six academic centers. Some flew to Boston. Others participated by telephone after receiving pertinent test results and other medical records.”

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Jack, Bobby, and Ted in Hyannis Port, 1960. Before the decade was over, Jack and Bobby would both be assassinated.

At the meeting, opinions were divided over the benefit of surgery. According to the Times’s Altman, “Some neurosurgeons strongly favored it; two did not.” Among those opposing surgery was Dr. Raymond Sawaya, chairman of neurosurgery at Baylor College of Medicine and the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, both in Houston. Dr. Sawaya believed that, because the cancer was spread over a large area, most of it could not be eradicated.

However, Dr. Vivek Deshmukh, director of cerebrovascular and endovascular neurosurgery at George Washington University Medical Center, told The Washington Post he would recommend that the senator take his chances with the scalpel. “The treatment that has been shown to make the most difference as far as survival is removal of the tumor,” Dr. Deshmukh said. “Surgical removal carries the greatest benefit in terms of extending his survival.”

And so the senator’s medical adviser put in a call to Dr. Allan H. Friedman, co-director of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center, at Duke University. The 60-year-old doctor was considered by many of his colleagues to be the Mozart of brain surgeons. He was preparing to take off for a long-planned conference in Canada when the medical adviser reached him at the airport. He told him that Senator Kennedy had agreed to have his cancerous brain tumor removed surgically, and they wanted the best neurosurgeon in the country to perform the operation.

Three days later, on Monday, June 2, 2008, after Dr. Friedman clipped a small area of hair from the senator’s head, Kennedy was wheeled into the operating room where he was to undergo a procedure called “awake surgery.” Dr. Friedman reminded the senator that his physician assistant, standing on the other side of the anesthesia curtain, would ask him questions or ask him to perform certain tasks to ensure that the doctor did not cut into parts of the brain responsible for language, movement, or vision.

The senator was heavily sedated for the first part of the surgery. Dr. Friedman made an incision and pulled back the scalp to expose the bone. He drilled a hole smaller than a dime in the skull and then inserted a second, larger drill bit. After enlarging the hole to a little more than three inches in diameter, he used a scalpel to cut through the dura, the layer of tissue covering the brain. It was at this point, after the senator’s skull had been opened, that the anesthesiologist awakened him, and Dr. Friedman began to stimulate the brain with an electrode.

“If the stimulation of the electrode causes any changes in task performance, we know that we touched an important part of the brain,” Dr. Ania Pollack of the University of Kansas Hospital, in Kansas City, told Reuters. “We mark that spot, and we know we cannot injure it. That is called cortical mapping.”

Peering through a high-powered microscope and using a computer system to help him navigate the brain, Dr. Friedman began to expose the tumor. Then he used high-frequency sound waves and heat to dissolve the cancerous tissue and remove as much of the tumor as possible. It was unlikely, however, that the doctor was able to get all the cancer cells.

Nonetheless, Dr. Friedman was pleased with the results, and he announced that the surgery had “accomplished our goals.” Combined with radiation, chemotherapy, and brain-cancer drugs, the procedure was expected to allow the senator to survive for at least several months. Left unsaid, however, was an inescapable fact: the malignant tumor was already growing back.

Ted’s first few weeks at home in Hyannis Port were a harrowing experience. His doctors started him on chemotherapy treatments, and for a while he was so drained of color and vitality that he looked as though he were at death’s door. But he was an old hand at wrestling with the Angel of Death. His three brothers, a sister, and two nephews had all died violently; he had barely survived a plane crash that took the lives of two people; one of his sons had lost a leg to cancer; his daughter was a lung-cancer survivor; and, of course, Ted bore responsibility for the death of a young woman many years ago.

Despite these dreadful experiences (or perhaps because of them), he refused to succumb to self-pity and despair. As the hellish chemo treatments proceeded, he regained his buoyant and cheerful disposition. To everyone who came to visit him, he had one message: he couldn’t wait to get back to campaigning for Barack Obama.

There were days when he felt well enough to be wheeled down the wooden pier of the Hyannis Port Yacht Club for a look at the Mya. Ninety-four-year-old Benedict Fitzgerald, who had served as Rose Kennedy’s personal attorney until her death, happened to be on the pier on one such day, and he reeled back in shock when he recognized the frail figure in the wheelchair.

“It was clearly going badly for Ted,” Fitzgerald said. “I have a lot of happy memories of that beach. Many happy days with members of the Kennedy family over the years, dating back to when Joe Kennedy bought the place, in the 1920s. But this was one of the saddest days. When Ted is gone,” Fitzgerald added, “the house and all those memories will be history. Rose wanted to turn the place over to the Benedictine monks before she died. I drew up the legal papers for her on my front porch. But when Ted found out about it, he ripped the thing in half. There was no way he was going to have the place turned into a monastery.”

Fighting Back

On Sunday, July 6, 2008, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, talked on the phone with Vicki Kennedy about whether her husband was well enough to travel to Washington and make an appearance on the floor of the Senate. Just two weeks before, a vote on a critical Medicare bill had fallen one shy of the 60 needed to break a Republican filibuster. Ted’s “aye” would tip the balance. Reid made it clear that he wasn’t pushing, just asking.

No one in Hyannis Port wanted Ted to go, not his children, not his doctors, and not Vicki, the person who ultimately decided such matters. But as Ted gained strength, he decided to overrule them all. On Wednesday, July 9, he traveled to Washington in virtual secrecy; few of his colleagues outside the Democratic leadership knew of his plan to make a surprise appearance. He did not want to give the Republicans time to plot a counter-strategy.

Just after four o’clock in the afternoon, he showed up at the north wing of the Capitol, accompanied by Vicki. Word quickly spread, and the hall began to fill with press photographers. For years, newspapers had had Ted Kennedy obituaries at the ready, figuring that, if his compulsive eating and drinking did not get him, some nut with a gun might. But he had defied the odds. Of all the Kennedy brothers, only he had lived long enough, in the words of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, to “comb grey hair.”

And now, like some apparition, he had come back to the Senate, where he had managed to accomplish more than his brothers John and Robert. He was the second-longest-serving member in the Senate, after Robert Byrd, of West Virginia, and the third-longest-serving ever. His colleagues on Capitol Hill—even those who heaped scorn on his liberal agenda—referred to him as “the lion of the Senate.” They predicted he would go down in history as one of the chamber’s greats, up there with Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun.

Proud of his mastery of the Senate, Ted no longer regarded himself as a runner-up in history because of his failed attempts to win the White House. “I feel the Senate is where the action is,” he once explained, “where the great issues of war and peace, the issues of human rights, and the problems of poverty are being debated. And, with certain important exceptions, you really can get a vote there on important matters. I would say the Senate is the greatest forum for change in our country and in the system. It’s the forum that I very much want to be part of and have some influence with.”

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Senator Ted Kennedy sits at the helm of his sailboat, the Mya, 20 August 1997 before picking up US President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton for an afternoon sail off of the island of Martha’s Vineyard, MA, where the first family is currently vacationing.

There were those who would deny him that role. They still viewed him as a relic of the past, a tax-and-spend liberal, an overweight, debauched politician who had left Mary Jo Kopechne for dead at Chappaquiddick; who had been caught making love to a beautiful luncheon companion on the floor of La Brasserie restaurant in Washington, D.C.; who had appeared as a prosecution witness in his nephew William Kennedy Smith’s lurid rape case, in Palm Beach—who, in short, was beyond hope of salvation.

However, this caricature was woefully out of date. It had been more than 15 years since his name had been linked with any scandal. And it had been even longer since he had given serious thought to running for the White House. As a result, he had ceased being a paramount threat to the Republicans. He was no longer the politician so memorably described by the late Republican National Committee chairman Lee Atwater as “the man in American politics Republicans love to hate.” In recent years the senator’s most clamorous critics had fallen silent, or had been drowned out by those who believed that he had atoned for his sins. The person who best captured this merciful view of the senator was the late political writer Murray Kempton. “In the arrogance of our conviction that we would have done better than he did in a single case [i.e., Chappaquiddick],” wrote Kempton, “we exempt ourselves from any duty to pay attention to the many cases where he shows himself better than us.”

And so, on this fine summer day, it was fair to say that Ted Kennedy had not merely survived long enough to comb gray hair but had prevailed. He was the greatest lawmaker of his age, a trusted member of that small fraternity of men and women who guided the course of America’s destiny.

As his wife and his niece Caroline watched from the packed Senate Gallery, he was escorted onto the Senate floor by his son Patrick, the congressman, and his friends Senators Barack Obama, John Kerry, Christopher Dodd, and Harry Reid. His unheralded appearance caused an instant sensation. Dozens of his colleagues rose to their feet and let out whoops of delight.

He “stirred the normally staid chamber to a rousing ovation and moved many colleagues to tears,” reported The New York Times. “Looking steady but flushed … Mr. Kennedy was quickly surrounded by Senators who could barely keep from overwhelming him despite cautions to keep their distance because his treatments have weakened his immune system.”

The Jewish Daily Forward could not contain itself. “There may be no better example … of how complicated human beings can be,” wrote Leonard Fein. “Ted Kennedy is very far from sainthood. There have been times when his life has seemed a shambles, earning disgrace. Yet even then, in the summer of his life, as surely now, in its winter, he was a lion. It was Martin Luther King who asked to be remembered as a drum major for justice, for peace, for righteousness. If that were so, he added, ‘all the other shallow things will not matter.’

“Ted Kennedy: A drum major for righteous indignation.”

A hard frost set in early on the Cape in the fall of 2008, and Vicki Kennedy feared that the bitter cold would hasten the demise of her desperately sick husband. “A number of things were going wrong,” said a family friend. “Ted was determined to get in every last sail on the Mya, but even he had to admit that the weather was foul. The nasty weather depressed him, because he considered every day that he was forced to stare at the sea from his porch to be a bad day, and his days were dwindling quickly.”

Ted went back to drinking, according to a close acquaintance. Although Vicki tried to keep him away from hard liquor, he had many friends in Hyannis Port who felt sorry for him and saw no harm in sneaking him a bottle or two. Vicki’s father, Judge Edmund Reggie, suggested that they ship the Mya to South Florida and move there for the winter. The judge had a friend who owned an estate in the Miami area, on Biscayne Bay, which he had been trying to sell but had been having trouble unloading in the depressed real-estate market.

The move was quickly arranged. The Mya was shipped south on a flatbed truck. Several boxes of photographs and Kennedy memorabilia followed. Office space was rented near the Biscayne Bay property so that the senator could set up quarters for a small working staff.

In the days leading up to Ted and Vicki’s departure from Hyannis Port, Ted wandered around the house, gesturing at photos of family members, most of them long dead. “It was as though he was familiarizing himself with the faces of those he’d soon be rejoining,” said a family friend. Ted also made a point of saying good-bye to everyone who worked in the Kennedy compound. A lot of these people had been with the Kennedys for years. “I’ll be back in the spring,” he told them, but there wasn’t a great deal of conviction in his voice.

From Vicki’s point of view, the move to Florida served a dual purpose. The warm weather would be easier on Ted’s delicate health, and the relatively isolated location of the estate meant that only a handful of people would have access to him. In Florida, Vicki was able to keep Ted under far tighter control than she could in Hyannis Port, Washington, or New York, where nearly everyone was Ted’s friend and most had never cottoned to Vicki.

The weather that winter in Florida turned out to be wretched—cold and gloomy—which meant that Ted couldn’t go sailing as often as he wanted. When he was trapped indoors, he stayed in touch with John McDonough, his chief health-care-policy adviser, who was aiming to get a Kennedy-crafted health-care bill on the floor of the Senate before the Fourth of July recess. Ted also worked on a long-standing oral-history project that would eventually be housed in the proposed Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, in Boston. He was a first-class anecdotalist, and when a particular story out of his past caught his fancy, he would make three copies of an audiotape and send them to his children.

Caroline’s Choice

‘There has been a Kennedy in the Senate for nearly 50 years, and Ted wanted to extend that run for another 50 years,” said a longtime family adviser. “He felt it was very important to have a Kennedy in the Senate after he was gone, and when Hillary [Clinton] announced she was leaving the Senate to become secretary of state, Ted thought that Caroline should take her seat. He put it to Caroline almost like a last wish, and Caroline felt that she couldn’t let her uncle Teddy down.”

The family adviser who provided this insight into Ted’s and Caroline’s thinking had a unique set of credentials that allowed him to speak with authority about private Kennedy matters. He had been an intimate of the Kennedys since the early days, and he was still in touch with family members, including Ted and Caroline, as well as Caroline’s three children, Rose, Tatiana, and Jack.

In early December 2008, Caroline phoned David Paterson, who had replaced the disgraced Eliot Spitzer as governor of New York, and expressed her interest in the Senate seat that would be vacated by Hillary Clinton. Paterson had the sole authority to name Hillary’s successor, but since everyone from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to President-Elect Barack Obama supported Caroline’s bid, she was considered to be a shoo-in for the post.

However, the new governor didn’t seem as impressed by the magical Kennedy name as everyone else, and he let Caroline twist slowly in the wind. While he dithered over his selection, Caroline launched a listening tour of upstate New York that turned into a political disaster of major proportions. “During a series of meetings with the New York press, one of which was recorded and is now being admired on YouTube in all its ineloquent awkwardness, the daughter of President Kennedy was vague, unconvincing and displayed a potentially ruinous verbal tic,” reported the correspondent of The Times of London. “In one sequence, lasting two minutes and twenty-seven seconds, Ms. Kennedy, fifty-one, revealed that she had inherited none of the eloquence, energy or charisma associated with other members of America’s foremost political dynasty: she used the phrase ‘you know’ no fewer than thirty times.”

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Left, Ted in Massachusetts in 1979, the year he declared his candidacy for president. Right, Kennedy in January of this year, at the inauguration of President Obama.

In early January 2009, Caroline was finally granted a face-to-face interview with David Paterson. But by that time the New York media were speculating that the governor might not choose Caroline for the job, because she lacked “electoral experience.” Worse yet, New York City’s competing tabloids, the Daily News and the Post, were having a field day poking fun at Caroline for the inept rollout of her candidacy, and for her stuttering interjections of “you know.”

‘Caroline was humiliated; she had expected that the appointment would automatically be hers,” said the Kennedy-family adviser. “In her mind, it wasn’t just that it had been her uncle Robert’s Senate seat, or any other aspect of her legacy; it was that she is a constitutional scholar who has helped secure funding for the New York City school system, that she’s acted as an adviser to her uncle, and that she’s a star of the Democratic Party. It honestly never occurred to her that the seat wouldn’t be given to her immediately. When Governor Paterson failed to react, and made her wait, she seethed.”

Caroline called a number of Democratic power brokers in Washington and Albany, and during those calls she vented her rage. This was a side of Caroline that few people had ever seen, or even suspected. According to one veteran lawyer who spoke with her, Caroline sounded like the old Bobby Kennedy—loud, harsh, and grating. (Caroline Kennedy did not respond to a request for comment.)

“In the end her daughters, her son, and her husband, Ed, sat down with her at their New York apartment and gave her something of an ultimatum,” said the family adviser. “Her children felt that she was becoming a different person—one that they didn’t much like. They had never heard her talk so tough. They told her that, if she was getting this worked up just getting the job, they didn’t want to see what she would be like in the trenches of a political campaign or a fight in Washington.

“One night, Caroline and Ed Schlossberg were dressing to go out to a dinner party when her daughters, Rose and Tatiana, came into her bedroom to confront her about the situation. Caroline was putting on her makeup and was a few minutes from leaving when they sat down on her bed and told her what they were thinking. When they knew they had her attention, Rose, the eldest, ran out and got her brother, Jack, to join them so that their mother would know they were unanimous.

“Jack is actually the most emotional of the kids, and he was the most upset. This was totally uncharted territory for them. Mom had always been in charge. Their family is very matrilineal. Caroline calls the shots. Rebellion is not something that happens. For that reason Caroline was stunned. She stopped what she was doing and gave them 100 percent attention, shushing and waving Ed out of the room when he ducked in and pointed to his watch to indicate that they were running late.

“Rose pleaded, saying, ‘Mom, you are above this.’ That was a wake-up call. It jerked Caroline back to reality. What would her mother [Jackie] think of all this tabloid attention she was getting? Her mother wouldn’t have liked it. It was Caroline’s conversation with her children that tipped the balance. If Paterson had called and offered her the job an hour earlier, she would have accepted. But after that conversation she wouldn’t have taken the job if Paterson had come begging on his hands and knees. That’s when Caroline called Paterson and told him she was withdrawing her name.”

The Lion of the Senate

Caroline’s decision came as a crushing blow to Ted, and it was quickly followed by several other setbacks. At a celebratory luncheon on Capitol Hill after the inauguration of Barack Obama, Ted collapsed and had to be rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital. Doctors attributed his seizure to fatigue, but, according to close acquaintances of his family, he had been drinking the night before. Though Ted seemed to bounce back from the episode, the seizure was a dramatic reminder that, ultimately, he was locked in a losing battle with cancer.

The news from Capitol Hill was equally grim. Tom Daschle, President Obama’s choice for secretary of health and human services, was pressured to withdraw his name after it was learned that he had failed to pay $128,000 in taxes on a car and driver provided by a private-equity firm for which he consulted. The withdrawal of Daschle, who was also set to head a newly created office on health reform, devastated Ted. He had quit the Judiciary Committee to focus exclusively on his life’s great dream—comprehensive health-care reform. Now, as President Obama set about searching for Daschle’s replacement, everything was put on hold, and it was anybody’s guess whether Ted would still be around to lead the debate when the bill finally reached the Senate.

On February 9, 2009, Ted returned to Washington for the first time since Inauguration Day. He went there to cast his vote on the Senate’s version of President Obama’s economic-recovery package. As he entered the Senate chamber, his colleagues were taken aback by his appearance. His once luxurious head of snow-white hair had thinned considerably, and his hand trembled when he greeted Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the Finance Committee, who managed the debate on the stimulus bill.

Ted left immediately after the vote and made his way, with the aid of a cane, to a room where Vicki was waiting for him. In the past several weeks, Vicki’s constant presence at Ted’s side had added to the speculation that she might succeed her husband in the Senate. If that’s what Vicki had in mind, she was in for some stiff competition, for back in Massachusetts, Joe Kennedy was already running a thinly disguised campaign for his uncle’s seat via a blitz of TV commercials touting his efforts to deliver low-cost heating oil to the poor.

Vicki helped Ted on with his coat and looped a long blue scarf around his neck. Ted picked up a soft felt fedora and squashed it down on his head. Since the days of J.F.K., Kennedy men had never liked to wear hats. They thought hats made them look silly. Hats were for sissies. But Ted obviously didn’t care anymore about such things. He just wanted to stay warm—and alive.

He sprang another unannounced visit to Washington on March 5, to attend a summit on health care at the White House. Three nights later, he appeared at the Kennedy Center to receive the Profile in Courage Award from Caroline, and in celebration of his recent 77th birthday Barack and Michelle Obama surprised him by leading a crowd sing-along of “Happy Birthday” for the seemingly indestructible statesman.


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Losing a quest for the top, finding a new freedom


Carter’s failed challenger carved giant Senate role


Senator Kennedy responded to the applause at the Democratic National Convention in New York City.

On October 12, 1979, CBS correspondent Roger Mudd asked Senator Edward M. Kennedy why he wanted to be the next president of the United States. With the cameras rolling, Kennedy began:

“Well, I’m — were I to make the announcement and to run, the reasons I would run is because I have a great belief in this country. That it is — there’s more natural resources than any nation in the world; the greatest education population in the world; the greatest technology of any country in the world; the greatest capacity for innovation in the world; and the greatest political system in the world.”

The answer went on for 336 words. If this were a painting, it would be a bad Jackson Pollock, at once incoherent and repetitive. It lacked a core commitment and a sense of passion. Kennedy spoke from a strange, bloodless remove. His failure to articulate a better reason for seeking the job that had been inextricably linked with his name since Bobby Kennedy’s death 11 years earlier astonished friend and foe alike.

Ted Kennedy’s feeble performance was a symptom, not a cause, of a doomed campaign, and it added bite to the question of the day: Did he really want to run at all?

His opponent for the Democratic nomination would be President Jimmy Carter, a wounded leader who had come from nowhere to win the White House in 1976. As the seams of the Carter presidency came apart, Kennedy had become more seductive about his intentions.

In June of 1979, Carter’s favorability rating was at 28 percent. Americans faced double-digit inflation, double-digit interest rates, and long gasoline lines from yet another energy crisis.

But the key issue to Kennedy was universal health insurance. Members of the Kennedy and Carter teams say that if the president had agreed to the health-insurance package so dear to the senator’s heart, as he had promised to do early in his presidency, there would have been no Kennedy challenge.

Carter, however, wouldn’t buy the $60 billion price tag during a time of dismal economic straits.

There had been a spirited political parlor game in play for years among Washingtonians over when Ted Kennedy would run for president. That he would run was a given. He had to, whether he liked it or not. He was the last Kennedy brother.

Yet there is little evidence that Kennedy ever craved the White House. None of those close to him can cite a private conversation where he displayed a passionate drive to be president. The Mudd interview made that ambivalence embarrassingly public.

In fact, Kennedy had shown mixed feelings about a presidential run throughout his career. He chose not to run in 1972, only three years after Chappaquiddick. In 1976, he again declined, citing family reasons.

“It is my opinion that he didn’t want to run,” David Burke, who first took the title of chief of staff and Kennedy’s longtime counselor, said of the Mudd interviews. “He didn’t focus on ‘I’m deeply ambivalent,’ but it would not have bothered him if it went away nicely.”

Kennedy agonized over the 1980 decision throughout the spring and summer of 1979. He talked to a wide circle of friends and met regularly with his inner circle. Paul Kirk, another trusted aide, recalls that at a July meeting his was a lonely voice when he said, “I’m not sure this is a good idea, running against an incumbent president of your own party.”

There were legions of other voices: liberals who felt betrayed by Carter, former members of his brother Jack’s administration who dreamed of a Kennedy restoration, average Americans hoping that a new Kennedy administration would erase the 16 painful years of war and recessions and social unrest since the last one. In late August, when Ted finally decided to run, he may simply have wanted to stop the noise that had plagued him for years.

Throughout this period, no one in his inner circle appears to have considered Chappaquiddick a serious threat; the echoes of what happened on Poucha Pond were quiet. It seemed like part of the distant past. But the judgment proved to be catastrophically wrong. The character issue would haunt Kennedy through his primary fight with President Carter and beyond.

Stuck in fields of Iowa

 Ted Kennedy and his swollen press entourage arrived in two planes in Boston on Nov. 7 for the announcement of his candidacy. He chose Faneuil Hall, so long associated with great Boston orators, to speak forcefully against Carter. The crowd and reporters alike sensed they were attending a historic event. Kennedy was way ahead in the polls, drawing about 65 percent. How could Teddy possibly lose?

Only Kennedy seemed skeptical.

“I’ve got 45 percent,” he told a reporter, reflecting his private judgment that he could truly count on the party’s core liberals. “The last 6 percent comes hard.”

Starting late, short of money and organization, made things tough as well. And then there was the message problem that emerged in Iowa, the first state to hold caucuses, with many rural populist Democrats who might be disposed toward Kennedy but who retained a sense of kinship with fellow farmer Jimmy Carter.

In the spring of 1979, Kennedy had spoken of his admiration for George Norris, the Nebraska senator who carried the flag of the Progressive movement in Congress during the 1930s and never wavered in his support of the New Deal. Norris, like Kennedy, sailed against the wind.

Kennedy might have brought a strong Norris message with him. He didn’t. Instead he launched his campaign with a listless theme about leadership.

“Our mistake at the beginning of the campaign was thinking we’re at 65 percent, so why would we take tough positions?” recalls Bob Shrum, Kennedy’s speechwriter and press secretary during the campaign.

Kennedy looked every inch a contender in Boston. He hadn’t yet bloated to the dimensions that later would bring him ridicule. He was thick but not fat. His face was full but not puffy. He was a handsome man.

Yet his verbal clumsiness was already the stuff of legend. Edward Fouhy, a CBS Washington bureau chief in the early ’80s, says, “He couldn’t articulate an English sentence. He was hopeless on the stump and wasn’t great with a prepared speech either.”

Nor did he open up in public. After a poor performance on a Sunday morning talk show before the 1980 campaign, a reporter traveling with him on a New York subway told Kennedy he had been awful. Couldn’t he open up a bit? Kennedy turned to him and snapped, “What do you want me to do? Lay my intestines on the table?”

What Kennedy could not have foreseen was the emergence of foreign-policy issues into the campaign. On Nov. 4, three days before Kennedy announced his candidacy, the staff of the US Embassy in Tehran was taken hostage. The Iranian hostage crisis dealt a blow to Kennedy in Iowa. It dominated the airwaves; Kennedy could not get on television.

To make matters worse, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Day. Carter used the events on Dec. 28 to back out of a debate with Kennedy set for Jan. 7. He stayed in the White House and pursued a Rose Garden strategy. This was also devastating to Kennedy, who had counted on that opportunity to confront his rival before the American people.

In the end, Carter destroyed Kennedy in Iowa, 59 to 31 percent. Kennedy’s team had been outmanned and outspent. Kennedy’s legislative skills had not translated into campaign skills.

Patrick Caddell, Carter’s pollster who worked for Kennedy before and after the race, says he was scared only once during the primary season. During in-depth interviews in November and December, his team asked people how they would feel if Ted Kennedy were president.

“A lot of people thought he’d be fantastic,” Caddell recalls. “I brought these results to the president. He locked them in his safe and said, ‘No one is ever to see this.’ ”

But Kennedy on the stump had been anything but fantastic. On the day of the Iowa drubbing, he sat over lunch with his inner circle in Hyannis Port to chart his next move. He asked Shrum to stay a minute as others were leaving.

Kennedy was not optimistic. “This baby is going down,” he told Shrum, his hand spiraling like a falling plane.

The long, twisting campaign

The best of Ted Kennedy came out in adversity. As the campaign lurched on, he displayed a fatalism that appreciated the absurd, and a political campaign is nothing if not absurd. He was born to laugh, and he did.

A week after the Iowa loss, Kennedy threw away the old message and spoke his mind in a speech at Georgetown University. He laid out the case against Carter in foreign affairs, saying his inconsistency had emboldened the Soviets.

“It is less than a year since the Vienna summit when President Carter kissed President Brezhnev on the cheek,” said Kennedy. “We cannot afford a foreign policy based on the pangs of unrequited love.”

But his sharp words didn’t matter much in the impending contests in his own backyard. He proceeded to lose the New Hampshire and Vermont primaries and the Maine caucuses.

Illinois on March 18 was a delegate feast. For Kennedy, it could be either a potential backbreaker that forces him from the race or a fuel station to stay alive.

If there were proof so far that the Kennedy team had colossally misjudged the lasting impact of Chappaquiddick, it was Illinois. Catholics in the state simply didn’t buy his explanation of how it happened, and once they perceived him as a liar, he was cooked. Carter took 155 of the 169 delegates.

Kennedy endured a string of predictable losses in Carter’s native South before limping into New York glimpsing his demise. The campaign was broke and in disarray. Shrum had been told to draft a withdrawal statement. Paul Kirk rented a room at the Parker House in Boston in anticipation of a withdrawal announcement there the next day. One poll released the day before the vote had Kennedy down 20 points.

He ended up winning by almost that much, in no small part due to a Jewish vote furious at Carter for joining a UN resolution reprimanding Israel for continuing to build settlements on the West Bank. Kennedy staffers called New York “the miracle.”

Kennedy’s turnaround prompted Caddell to finally pull the trigger on “the character issue” in the April 22 Pennsylvania primary. Ads were aired that spoke to Chappaquiddick without ever mentioning the word. They included interviews with real people. One said of Kennedy, “I don’t believe him.” Another said, “I don’t trust him.” It worked. Kennedy’s lead almost evaporated, and he won by a small margin.

Super Tuesday back in those days ended the primary season. Kennedy won two out of the three biggest states and decided to stay in the race to the convention, promising a nightmare summer for Carter. By this point, Carter and his team were livid. Kennedy looked like a lousy loser.

Unconventional drama

The most riveting piece of the primary campaign in 1980 turned out to be its endgame.

Modern-day conventions are supposed to lack drama. Not the Democratic Party gathering in 1980. They’re supposed to lack surprises. Not this time.

The Kennedy team decided to stage its fight over a party rule that bound delegates to the candidate for whom they voted in the primaries and caucuses. The only conceivable rationale for Kennedy to have stayed in was the quixotic hope that he could defeat Carter on the rule and open the convention. As expected, Carter swamped Kennedy on the vote.

Hamilton Jordan, Carter’s top political aide, had threatened to block Kennedy from speaking unless he endorsed Carter. Paul Kirk, Kennedy’s top negotiator, wouldn’t agree to that. But Jordan held firm that the critical vote on the rule must come on Monday, the first night of the convention. He feared a runaway convention if the vote were held Tuesday night after Kennedy’s speech.

So Kennedy would not speak unless he agreed to the Monday vote. He did.

Most Americans have assumed that Kennedy was given his night in prime time, as losers always get at conventions. Not this time. Jordan wouldn’t afford him that honor. Instead, he forced Kennedy to speak on three proposed economic amendments to the party’s platform, aware that Kennedy would use the time for a broader address.

On that Tuesday night, Aug. 12, Kennedy’s oration was spellbinding. His words were a fanfare for the common man, transcending the rancor below. He produced a clear manifesto for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party — under siege from Ronald Reagan’s Republicans: “The commitment I seek is not to outworn ideas, but to old values that will never wear out. Programs may sometimes become obsolete but the idea of fairness always endures.”

Those in Madison Square Garden knew they’d heard something special. There was light applause after he ended with the line, “The dream shall never die,” followed by wild, sustained cheering and clapping that ran half an hour.

Kennedy promptly lost altitude two nights later after Carter had delivered his acceptance speech. Kennedy was supposed to appear on the podium with Carter, join hands, and raise them together in the traditional sign of political unity. Instead, in an odd echo of his refusal to shake Edward McCormack’s hand in his very first debate as a senatorial candidate, he arrived late and disappeared in a sea of dark suits on the podium. Carter literally had to chase him down for what turned out to be a mere handshake. It was inexcusable behavior for a politician known for his party loyalty.

The run for the presidency was over.

Back in the Senate

Ted Kennedy returned to the Senate in 1981 at sea. Carter had been soundly defeated by Reagan. The Democrats had also lost the Senate. At the end of January, Kennedy and his wife, Joan, would announce they were getting divorced.

“You never really hear it, but he had to be an extremely lonely man,” says Kirk.

But Kirk, like Senator Joe Biden, never saw Kennedy break down.

“There was no period when Teddy went into a black hole over the fact he’d never be president,” says Biden, a good friend. Much later, after Biden himself dropped out of the Democratic nomination race in 1988, Kennedy would encourage him to see it as a liberation: “Teddy turned to me and said, ‘I promise you there’s life after the presidency, and it’s good.’ ”

“His life is a lesson in moving forward,” notes Bob Shrum about Kennedy’s defeat. “He was 12 years old when a man walked up to the door and said, ‘Your brother Joe has just been killed.’ There were Kathleen’s death, Jack and Bobby’s assassinations. How do you do it? You keep on going.”

Or, as Carl Wagner, Kennedy’s national field director in the 1980 race, put it: “Rock bottom is a very good foundation to build on.”

Some hold it was here that Kennedy began his transformation into the legislative giant he would be by the late ’80s, that he made himself into a different person. But he didn’t think differently. He didn’t view life differently.

What did change were his thoughts on the presidency. His loss to Carter freed him to be his own man. But even that wasn’t a clean break. David Burke says, “There was no ‘I’ll run for president, then I’ll become king of the Senate.’ There was a melding that was much more complicated.”

A foil to Reagan’s march

“His generation of the Kennedys can never command again,” wrote the acclaimed political journalist Murray Kempton in Newsday after the campaign loss. “It endures in him only to oppose, the most elevated of all political functions.”

And that’s just what Ted Kennedy did. During the ’80s, Kennedy was a firewall against Reagan’s effort to undermine hard-fought civil rights victories of the past. Working with carefully selected Republican partners, he led the way to strengthen every civil rights bill that came before him. He fought Reagan to preserve and enhance the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to boost funds for AIDS treatment, and to preserve equal funding for women’s sports.

Still, he chafed in the minority, in which he had no power to convene the Senate committees. So he got creative. Together with his chief of staff, Larry Horowitz, Kennedy conceived an idea of holding his own hearings on subjects of interest to him. He called them forums. Kennedy would bring experts to talk about such issues as arms control, hunger, and healthcare.

He succeeded in moving legislation because of his reflexive search for a coalition that worked. He lived for the human connection and parlayed it into legislative success. Republicans were an integral part of the plan. Like Lyndon Johnson, he was a great legislative agnostic. He cared little about someone else’s ideology other than his own.

Kennedy’s work schedule was terrifying. Staffers would arrive at his large suburban home in McLean, where he now lived alone, to brief him on the day’s agenda, often at 6 a.m. He would be there, coffee cup nearby, peering over his reading glasses, annotating the mountain of memos that had been left in “the bag” the night before.

“The bag” was a briefcase — sometimes two — just outside his office door into which staff members could put memos for him to read. It would be bulging by the time he took it home, yet somehow, he’d have scribbled on them all by morning.

Through all this, he was known for a thunderous laugh that ricocheted in marble halls. “Chris Dodd said, ‘Listen to the laughter if you want to find Ted Kennedy,’ ” says Jeff Blattner, a key Senate aide.

The presidential bug

Many people, including those on his staff, assumed Kennedy would run for president in 1984. He’d learned from his mistakes in 1980, the theory went. He still had the presidential virus in his blood.

“It was so obvious,” says political aide Bill Carrick. By 1982, Kennedy was already involved in the 1984 race. “He was very definitely, very intensely, ‘OK, I’ll do all I have to do,’ ” he recalls. “We campaigned . . . all over the country.”

Horowitz oversaw the creation of a detailed blueprint for the possible campaign. Whether Kennedy would actually use the blueprint was never clear. He would face a popular president in Reagan, for starters, and Chappaquiddick was bound to haunt him.

The plan was to establish a credible campaign in Iowa; Kennedy would travel the state by car with the popular former governor and Senator Harold Hughes. He would prepare more intensely for a run at the South, with the goal of securing the support of none other than George Wallace, the former segregationist who was looking to reconnect with the Democratic Party.

John Sasso, who had just helped Michael Dukakis regain the governor’s seat in Massachusetts, would run New Hampshire for Kennedy. Tim Russert would be hired as press secretary.

The blueprint, a well-kept secret at the time, didn’t sway Kennedy’s family members when Horowitz presented it the day after Thanksgiving, 1982, in Hyannis Port. Later, when Kennedy met alone with his three children, they all said no. A yes would have probably opened a run in 1984.

He said no again about a run in 1988. At the time of his decision, in late 1985, he sensed that the Democrats were poised to take the Senate back in 1986. A Democratic takeover would mean the return of the chairmanship of the labor committee for him. He liked the job and loved the place.

“With his success in the minority, he knew what he could do in the majority,” recalls Carrick.

Kennedy informed his political team of his decision in December at Hyannis Port. He gave Shrum a vodka to tell him the news. Shrum started preparing a withdrawal statement in the bedroom off the living room where Jack Kennedy had once convalesced from his war wounds and, with 12-year-old Teddy, took turns reading aloud from the epic poem, “John Brown’s Body.” Ted Kennedy went public in a televised address on Dec. 19. The last line of the statement he delivered was this: “I know this decision means I may never be president. But the pursuit of the presidency is not my life. Public service is.”

‘Best strategist in the Senate’

It was 1986 and the Democrats had taken back the Senate.

Tom Rollins, his chief of staff and chief counsel on the labor committee, recalls what happened after a night of serial celebratory libations over the return of the Senate: “I was still drunk at 6 a.m. when I got a phone call. It was Senator Kennedy. ‘Boss?’ ‘Tom, I’ve decided to take that labor committee.’ ”

Reagan was now in eclipse, and Kennedy made the most of it.

“It was a rock and roll period,” Rollins says.

“He’s the best strategist in the Senate,” says Joe Biden about Kennedy. “No bullshit. This is a guy who knows the subject matter more than the others. More of his energy is placed in dealing with inside baseball than outside baseball.”

As important, Rollins learned to decipher Kennedy-speak, a tongue as opaque to the rest of the country as Hungarian. To wit: “I need you to do this so that doesn’t happen, Tom.”

“He meant, ‘Make sure that [Connecticut Senator Christopher] Dodd moves the ABC child bill up through committee. Otherwise, it will be preempted by the families and medical leave legislation,’ ” Rollins says.

While Kennedy was known for his domestic achievements, he picked his shots abroad, too. He made four trips to Moscow, two in the ’70s to meet with Leonid Brezhnev, two more in 1986 and 1990 to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Kennedy made the 1986 trip with the full support of President Reagan, who wanted a reliable conveyer of information back and forth on arms control. While the pair were poles apart on that issue, both were bent on freeing as many refuseniks as possible from Soviet control. Kennedy helped get many released, including Natan Sharansky.

His trip to South Africa in 1985, in contrast, came with klieg lights and was all Kennedy. The highly publicized foray drew the wrath of the apartheid government and many Republicans in the United States. Apartheid’s denial of citizen rights for millions of blacks was a civil rights issue to him, as real as the horrors of the Jim Crow South.

Kennedy enraged the white ruling class by spending his first night in the slum of Soweto at the home of Nobel laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu. He visited Winnie Mandela, then wife of Nelson Mandela, the great leader who was imprisoned at the time.

The fruits of his trip was the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, which imposed US economic sanctions against South Africa.

Maestro of the Bork hearings

When Reagan nominated federal appeals Judge Robert Bork for a seat on the Supreme Court in July 1987, Ted Kennedy was poised like a sprinter in the starting blocks.

Kennedy viewed Bork, a longtime favorite of the hard right, as a threat to dismantle the civil rights gains he had helped advance. This made it personal. Kennedy was also terrified of Bork’s judicial vision, what he viewed as its bloodless remove from real people.

Bork had left a long paper trail from his writings while a professor at Yale Law School and later on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He was brilliant, arrogant, and provocative, a forbidding figure with a beard and wild hair.

He called the banning of discrimination in public accommodation provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “a principle of unsurpassed ugliness.” He found no right to privacy in the Constitution and opposed a Supreme Court decision banning the poll tax.

Less than an hour after Reagan had announced his nomination, Kennedy stood in the well of the Senate and delivered a blistering attack against Bork. His speech was already in his coat pocket. The material had been gathered by Blattner and written by Kennedy speechwriter Carey Parker in anticipation of the nomination.

It was long on incendiary language: “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions.”

He had no qualms about his rhetoric. Any caution he displayed in the ’70s, when he was looking toward the White House, was long gone. He was now the commanding officer at the full height of his power, leading his troops into battle.

Kennedy’s speech became known as the “Robert Bork’s America” speech. It was the mise en scene that framed one of the most charged constitutional battles of the latter 20th century.

And it was not just a tantrum. It was a savvy tactical move to give him time. The hearings weren’t until September, and he needed the summer to prepare his case.

There was near universal consensus that, beyond Kennedy, Bork was his own worst enemy. A man of prodigious intellect, if not emotional intelligence, he scorned most of the help from the White House to prepare for the battle.

On Sept. 15, the opening day of the hearings before the Judiciary Committee, Kennedy interrogated Bork near the end of the day. He went straight at him like a fullback, challenging him on civil rights, privacy, women’s rights. This charged exchange set the tone.

During the allotted half hour, chairman Biden kept football scores of the Kennedy-Bork match on 5-by-8 inch cards. It began at 6-0 and reached 24-0 near the end in Kennedy’s favor.

When the Judiciary Committee voted on Oct. 6, it rejected the Bork nomination 9-5. Bork demanded a full vote by the Senate. He was turned down there by a 58-42 vote on Oct. 23.

Ralph Neas, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, pulled scores of interest groups behind Kennedy. Bork was really defeated outside the Beltway. Kennedy and Biden needed five southern Democrats to vote against Bork. The task looked daunting until Boston pollsters John Marttila and Tom Kiley ran national polls in August on the situation. What they found was stunning, at first glance counterintuitive, and vital to a Bork defeat.

The last thing southern whites wanted to do, it turned out, was refight the civil rights battle. It was also clear to Democratic senators from the South that their political survival depended on large black turnouts, which would evaporate if a senator voted for Bork.

Kennedy and Biden eventually lined up senators from the Deep South such as J. Bennett Johnston and John Breaux of Louisiana, and Richard Shelby and Howell Heflin of Alabama, among many others.

“We knew we’d beat Bork from Marttila’s poll,” says Pat Caddell, who was working with Kennedy at this point. “The South wanted nothing to do with this. . . . Bork was not defeated by gerbil groups inside the Beltway. It was run outside the Beltway. We beat him in the South.”

If there had been any question before the Bork hearings who ran the United States Senate, there was none afterward.


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Turbulence and tragedies eclipse early triumphs


Stunning events convulse nation, turn young senator into family’s patriarch and liberals’ hope


Ted Kennedy had been entrusted with overseeing 13 western states for his brother’s 1960 presidential campaign. It was a tough assignment, since many of the states were Republican strongholds. In the end, he failed to deliver all but three of them.

“Can I come back,” the youngest and breeziest Kennedy wired his rabidly competitive family in a post-election telegram, “if I promise to carry the Western States in 1964?”

The move — using his fun-loving personality to paper over his failings — was classic Teddy. Even though he had grown into a handsome 28-year-old man with angular features, he was still largely seen by his high-achieving siblings as the overweight baby brother who was great for a laugh or a hug, but nothing of consequence.

Yet his telegram also masked a surprise: Ted Kennedy didn’t really want to come home.

If a lifetime of unfavorable comparisons with his brothers was only going to intensify now that one was about to become president and the other attorney general,

Ted figured he’d have a better shot at being his own man if he left the compound. He wanted to move with his new wife, Joan, to one of those western states he’d explored in the campaign — New Mexico, California, or Wyoming — and maybe buy a newspaper and eventually run for office. “The disadvantage of my position,” he told an interviewer, “is being constantly compared with two brothers of such superior ability.”

His father shot down his wild west dream, deciding Ted would be crazy to throw his hat in any ring outside Massachusetts. No, he would run for the US Senate seat his brother Jack had vacated to become president. “We really wanted to go out West,” Joan Kennedy recalls, “but in those days, my late father-in-law said, ‘You do this,’ and you did that.”

Ted did not resist, embracing the opportunity to justify the patriarch’s faith in him. But his brothers Jack and Bobby, and especially their advisers, strongly opposed a run by Teddy. They thought he wasn’t ready — it would be another two years before he even reached the minimum age for senators set by the Constitution. And they feared that, win or lose, his bid would reflect poorly on the new president.

Undeterred, the patriarch put the wheels in motion. Ted took a job as an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County and, after hours, was ushered around the state to speak before every Kiwanis Club, PTO, and temple brotherhood that would lend him a microphone. President Kennedy agreed to leave his kid brother’s options open. He saw to it that his old college roommate, a non-threatening former Gloucester mayor named Ben Smith, was appointed to warm the Senate seat until an election could be held in 1962, the year Ted reached the required age of 30.

In time, Jack accepted the inevitability of his brother’s run. Adviser Ted Sorensen says JFK decided he was already opposing his father on too many fronts, and, on family matters at least, even the president answered to a higher authority. Yet Bobby remained skeptical.

In the summer of 1961, Ted wrote to inform his father that Edward McCormack, the popular Massachusetts attorney general and a certain candidate for the Senate, had told a mutual friend he doubted Ted was going to run for the seat. That’s because at a luncheon in Washington, Bobby had publicly showered McCormack with praise. “When I heard this, I ran down brother Bob and he said, ‘What’s so bad about that?’ — he would say some nice things about me, too,” Ted wrote. “So you can see what I am up against here, Dad.”

A few days before Christmas of 1961, Joe Kennedy Sr. fainted on the golf course next to his Palm Beach estate. It was a massive stroke. Ted rushed from Boston, bringing a vascular specialist with him. His brothers came as well, but Ted stayed at his father’s bedside for three straight nights. When it became clear the patriarch would survive, but in an incapacitated state, robbed of much of his mobility and ability to speak, the news was crushing to his children. As demanding as their father had been with them — Ted once compared him to a blowtorch — and as unscrupulous as he had been in some other facets of his life, for his children he had been both rainmaker and a source of incredible love. That was especially true for Teddy, who, like many youngest children, had an easier relationship with his parents than his older siblings. Now he had lost the benefit of his father’s sure hand just when he needed it most.

Many people expected Ted to drop his Senate plans. The Kennedy advisers in Washington certainly hoped he would. They especially dreaded a bruising battle with McCormack, who was the favorite nephew of the US speaker of the house, a leader whose support JFK needed to get his agenda through Congress.

Yet inexperienced, undistinguished, untested Teddy Kennedy chose to soldier on. Instead of making a name for himself in a new state, he would cut his political teeth running for his brother’s old seat, working out of his brother’s old Beacon Hill apartment, and seeking to reflect in his brother’s glow with the winking campaign slogan of “He Can Do More for Massachusetts.”

Hallowed career begins haltingly

After Ted Kennedy formally announced his candidacy in March of 1962, Harvard Law School professor Mark De Wolfe Howe spoke for many intellectuals when he called the youngest Kennedy “a fledgling in everything except ambition.” The rejection by liberal academics was troubling for two reasons. Many of them had been enthusiastic supporters of Jack’s, and many of them knew Teddy’s secret.

Chatter about how Ted had been kicked out of Harvard for cheating — proof in many minds of his inferior ability — finally forced JFK to intercede. The president summoned the Globe’s top political writer, Robert Healy, to the White House, where he negotiated how the cheating news would be released. Healy insisted it go on page one, but he and his bosses agreed to blunt the impact, using the softball headline of “Ted Kennedy Tells About Harvard Examination Incident,” and delaying any mention of the actual transgression until the fifth paragraph.

Liberals favored Eddie McCormack largely because of his civil rights record, which was surprisingly progressive considering he was the son of South Boston neighborhood powerbroker Edward “Knocko” McCormack. Knocko kept a chalkboard in his Southie bar listing the names of people he had personally banished, at times using ethnic slurs to describe the reason for their banishment, such as “Brought a Guinea to the bar.”

With most seasoned pols staying on the sidelines, Ted came to rely heavily on Gerard Doherty, a young state lawmaker from Charlestown. Ted found another effective advocate closer to home: his wife. “Let’s show them, Joansie,” he told her.

Innocent and so wholesomely pretty that Jack nicknamed her “The Dish,” Joan had simply not been prepared for the hard-driving Kennedy culture. Her naivete in revealing to journalists Kennedy secrets such as Jackie’s reliance on wigs and Jack’s inability to lift his children because of his bad back had lowered her standing in the family.

Yet Doherty, who was hoping to see Ted outgrow his initial stiffness on the trail, noticed how quickly voters warmed up to unpretentious Joan, and Joan relished the chance to be in common cause with her husband, having been apart from him for long periods of their short marriage. “It was just us kids,” Joan says now. “And it was one of the happiest years of my life.”

In the spring, Doherty was called to the White House for a meeting with the president and his advisers, many of whom were still refusing to return the campaign’s phone calls. As the president stood up to leave, he turned to his advisers and said, “I want everyone to know that it’s very important to me — and to everybody in this room — that my brother does well.” The next day Bobby reaffirmed the message.

While Jack and Bobby continued to keep their distance in public, that was the turning point. The Kennedy machinery kicked into high gear to support Teddy, helping him win the endorsement of the state convention in June.

McCormack thought he could still beat Kennedy in the September primary, but by the summer Ted had developed into a confident campaigner, reaching down manholes and climbing up telephone poles to shake the hands of workmen. As a boy, Teddy had learned at the knee of his back-slapping, central-casting-of-a-pol grandfather John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald. Now he put those lessons to use.

At the first debate, which took place in South Boston, McCormack came out swinging. His hope, according to campaign manager Sumner Kaplan, was that “Teddy wouldn’t be able to take the pressure and he might blow up.”

McCormack ridiculed Kennedy for his lack of qualifications. “The office of United States senator should be merited, and not inherited,” the speaker of the house’s nephew thundered.

Kennedy, shaky at times, stuck to his rehearsed answers and resisted McCormack’s bait. His voice cracking, he said in closing, “We should not have any talk about personalities or families.”

But that just fired up McCormack more. Jabbing his finger in the air toward Kennedy, McCormack scoffed that if his opponent’s name were Edward Moore, his candidacy “would be a joke.” Over wild applause, he continued, “But nobody’s laughing because his name is not Edward Moore. It’s Edward Moore Kennedy.”

Veins bulging, Kennedy managed to contain his rage. When the debate ended, he walked off the stage without shaking McCormack’s hand. To Doherty, he muttered, “I’d like to get that guy and punch him in the nose!”

Fortunately for Kennedy, he wasn’t the only one fuming.

When Kaplan walked into the crowd to chat with his own mother, she blasted him for being party to a bludgeoning and refused to talk to him for weeks.

On the drive home, Kaplan and McCormack listened to the radio as caller after caller — many of them older women — expressed the same indignation with McCormack’s behavior that Kaplan’s mother had.

“Turn it off,” McCormack said finally. “The race is over.”

Kennedy beat McCormack by more than two-to-one. In the general election, he faced yet another political scion, Republican George Lodge, whose great-grandfather had defeated Honey Fitz for the Senate and whose father had lost the same seat to JFK. Ted cruised to victory.

‘He’s dead,’ Bobby tells Teddy

In November 1963, Ted was presiding over the Senate, a thankless clerical job assigned to junior members, when a press aide ran in. “The most horrible thing has happened!” he said, “It’s terrible, terrible!”

“What is it?” Kennedy asked.

“Your brother. Your brother the president. He’s been shot.”

Ted had been in the Senate for less than a year, but his reception had gone better than expected. Those hidebound leaders of the ultimate old man’s club had expected a swagger of entitlement from the president’s kid brother. But Ted turned out to be the model of deference, charming his elders with warmth and humor. Growing up the youngest of nine had prepared him well for an institution that runs on seniority. And while he never flaunted his status as brother of the president, he had taken to the arrangement. Jack thoroughly enjoyed his company, inviting him often to the White House for some after-hours laughs.

In one hideous moment, everything had been thrown into doubt.

The next several hours were a blur and an eternity as Ted sped in his aide Milton Gwirtzman’s black Mercedes from the Capitol to his home in Georgetown, determined to make sure his family was safe and struggling to find a live line in Washington, where much of the telephone system had gone down, and get a hold of Bobby. Bobby would know what to do. He finally reached his brother.

“He’s dead,” Bobby said plainly, according to William Manchester’s book “Death of a President.” “You’d better call your mother.”

Ted flew to Hyannis Port to deliver the shattering news to his ailing father. Soon after the funeral, the family reconvened at the compound for Thanksgiving. One night that weekend, Ted stayed up all night, drinking and swapping ribald stories with friends about the good times with Jack.

The next morning, his children’s governess quit in a huff, telling Joe Kennedy’s nurse, Rita Dallas, how horrified she’d been by Ted’s behavior. Dallas says the woman clearly didn’t get the concept of an Irish wake.

It was more than that. A man who had spent most of his life drawing laughs in his role as the baby brother must have known that, on some level, the laughter had just ended for good.

So much more would be expected of him now.

Horrific crash, long recovery

On April 9, 1964, Ted Kennedy rose to deliver his first major speech in the Senate, in support of the Civil Rights Act. President Kennedy had proposed the legislation the previous spring, and now it had come up for debate. “My brother was the first president of the United States to state publicly that segregation was morally wrong,” Kennedy told his colleagues. “His heart and his soul are in this bill.”

Two months and much filibustering later, the Senate was poised on June 19 to pass the historic ban on racial discrimination. Kennedy expected the vote to happen by early afternoon, after which he would fly to Springfield, where he would be formally endorsed by the Massachusetts Democratic Party for his first full term as senator. He had asked his friend and fellow senator, Birch Bayh, to come with him and deliver the keynote address.

But debate dragged on. The bill didn’t pass until 7:40 p.m. Joan was already in Springfield when Ted boarded a twin-engine private plane along with Bayh and his wife, Marvella, and Ed Moss, Ted’s aide and close friend. Moss sat in the copilot’s seat, Ted and the Bayhs in the back.

It was a turbulent ride, with stormy weather and low visibility. At 10:50 p.m., the plane crashed in an apple orchard outside of Springfield. Bayh crawled out a window, then helped his wife get out. He screamed for Ted, but got no reaction. It was too dark and foggy to see in the cabin. He walked around to the front of the plane, and peered in. Both the pilot and Ed Moss appeared to be dead. He and Marvella started running for help. But worried the plane might go up in flames, Bayh went back and dragged Ted out. He had regained consciousness but could not move his legs.

When news reached the convention hall, Joan was whisked to the hospital to see Ted, who had arrived badly injured and in shock. The convention was abruptly disbanded. The pilot was dead at the scene, but Ed Moss was still clinging to life. The father of three young girls, he survived for a few hours more, long enough for his wife to see him unconscious.

As soon as Bayh arrived at the hospital, he phoned Bobby, telling him there’d been a terrible accident.

“He isn’t dead, is he?” Bobby asked.

“No, we’ve been told by the doctor that he has a serious back injury.”

At the hospital, a reporter asked Bobby, “Is it ever going to end for you people?” Somberly, he responded, “I was just thinking out there if my mother hadn’t had any more children after her first four she would have nothing now. . . . I guess the only reason we’ve survived is that . . . there are more of us than there is trouble.”

Doctors initially feared a spinal cord injury, but the damage was limited to three fractured vertebrae in his lower back, a collapsed lung, and two fractured ribs. It would be a long time before he would walk again. After a few weeks, he was moved to New England Baptist Hospital in Boston. When doctors recommended Ted undergo lumbar fusion surgery, his father, who had visited the hospital with Rita Dallas, strenuously objected with what little speaking ability he had, “Naaaaaa!” Jack had nearly died as a result of complications from his spinal fusion surgery. Joe Sr. wasn’t going to take that chance again. “Dad,” Ted told him, “you’ve never been wrong yet, so I’ll do it your way.”

Ted was confined for months in a Stryker frame bed, which allowed him to be kept completely flat but flipped around to change positions. The arrangement complicated his reelection bid, but it provided another opportunity for Joan to prove her usefulness. She gamely filled in for her husband at campaign events, delivering cute stories and updates on his condition before reading the text of his speeches.

Unexpectedly, there was a major upside to Ted’s long convalescence. Respected academics began coming in weekly to give him bedside tutorials across a range of topics. Even his blistering critic from the 1962 campaign, Mark De Wolfe Howe, who gave him a primer on civil rights law, had to admit that the kid had learned a lot.

Through these months, a new seriousness developed in Kennedy. Jack had been cut down in his prime, joining their older siblings in an early grave. He himself had barely escaped death in a crash that had killed two others. Life was too precious to waste coasting and clowning around.

During one bedside talk with Gerard Doherty, his manager from the ’62 campaign, Kennedy asked how his firefighter father had survived financially when Doherty endured a long battle with tuberculosis during college. Doherty detected in him a growing appreciation for the economics of healthcare, an appreciation that would become Kennedy’s cause of a lifetime: If medical crises test even wealthy people such as the Kennedys, how do ordinary people cope?

On election day, Kennedy walloped his Republican opponent. Bobby, who had hastily run for a Senate seat from New York, also won, though by a much slimmer margin.

At a joint news conference outside the hospital, Ted ribbed his brother about the narrowness of his victory. Bobby quipped, “He’s getting awful fresh since he’s been in bed and his wife won the campaign for him.”

A photographer told Bobby, “Step back a little, you’re casting a shadow on Ted.” Teddy shot back, “It’ll be the same in Washington.”

Finding his stride in Senate

Ted needed the support of a cane as he walked back into the Senate in January 1965, but in all other respects, he showed a vigor his colleagues had not seen before. Deference had served him well, but now he was determined to get things done. He brought on a new senior aide, David Burke — a sharp guy with an MBA from the University of Chicago and the tough son of a Brookline cop — and gave him the mandate of attracting the best Ivy League talent to remake his staff.

Bobby’s arrival in the Senate presented complications. Although Ted outranked his brother in seniority, Bobby was a national figure determined to use his Senate office as a formidable check on Lyndon Johnson’s power.

On visits with his father at the compound, Ted would joke, “I was OK in the Senate until Bobby came in and upset everything.” In reality, they managed to develop a good working relationship.

In 1965, voting rights became the big issue. Civil rights leaders lobbied the Kennedy brothers to push for an amendment to the Voting Rights Act to remove the poll tax, a noxiously effective tool used to deny blacks the right to vote. But the Johnson administration opposed the amendment, worrying it might endanger the rest of the act.

From his perch on the Judiciary Committee, Ted Kennedy took on both a popular liberal president and entrenched conservative senators in his effort to end the poll tax. He lost, but the vote — 49-45 — was much closer than anyone expected and won Ted wide praise outside the Senate and a new standing within it. That same year, he scored another victory in pushing through reform of the nation’s outdated immigration laws, which greatly favored people coming from Northern Europe.

On the heels of this success, Kennedy blundered by pushing for the appointment of Francis X. Morrissey to the federal bench. He did it out of loyalty to his father, for whom Morrissey had been a retainer and supplicant. LBJ agreed to nominate the unqualified Morrissey but was most likely setting the Kennedys up for a fall. That came soon enough.

Healy, the Globe writer who had gingerly broken the news of Ted’s expulsion from Harvard, uncovered material that formed a withering indictment of Morrissey’s lack of readiness. The Globe was handed the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage, and Ted was handed an embarrassing defeat.

There were other struggles during this period, especially on the home front. In the six years prior to delivering their third child in 1967, Joan had suffered three miscarriages. And by the middle of the decade, she says now, she learned of Ted’s extramarital affairs. She didn’t know what to do, so she turned to Jackie Kennedy.

The two sisters-in-law had long enjoyed a warm relationship. When Bobby’s wife, Ethel, and the Kennedy sisters were playing touch football with the men at the compound, Jackie and Joan would steal away, Jackie painting and reading, Joan playing her classical piano. The Kennedys had trouble understanding why someone would opt for alone time and artsy pursuits when there was so much fun to be had competing with the clan.

“They think we’re weird,” Jackie had once told Joan. Now Joan turned to Jackie for advice on handling a cheating husband. “He adores you,” Jackie told Joan, adding, “The whole family loves you, and you’re just the perfect wife, but he just has this addiction.”

Joan believed her. But as a vulnerable soul, and the daughter of an alcoholic, she eventually would find support in a bottle.And the distance between her and Ted would grow.

Ted himself drank quite freely during this period, but because he was developing an ability to compartmentalize his life, it didn’t seem to affect his work. Every night he’d pore over the materials his aides had stuffed into his bulging briefcase — “the bag” — earlier in the day.

He quickly rebounded from the Morrissey debacle and pushed through lasting legislation, including the creation of a National Teacher Corps and a system of community health centers. In 1967, he adroitly led the fight against a redistricting measure that had powerful backers and would have hollowed out the concept of “one man, one vote.”

As with the poll tax, Ted had taken the lead on redistricting and Bobby had played a supporting role. It was an arrangement that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier but which now spoke to the manner in which Ted had emerged as a force. It also spoke to the closeness with which he and Bobby were now operating. There was still considerable rivalry, but it was mostly expressed through humor. During a string of speeches on the West Coast, Bobby joked about the telegram he had received from Washington. “Lyndon is in Manila. Hubert [Humphrey] is out campaigning. Congress has gone home. Have seized power. Teddy.”

In his own speeches, Ted would recount Bobby’s joke and then add, “Everyone here knows that if I ever did seize power the last person I’d notify is my brother.”

One Kennedy runs, one declines

Everyone, it seemed, around Bobby wanted him to run. Everyone except his brother. Ted used cold political terms to frame his opposition to a 1968 presidential bid by Bobby: It would be nearly impossible to defeat a sitting president, even one as weakened by the Vietnam War as LBJ. And just by trying, Bobby would divide the party, ensure the election of a Republican, and perhaps cost himself the chance for the presidency in 1972. Reluctantly, Bobby agreed.

Then on March 12, antiwar candidate Eugene McCarthy stunned LBJ and the political world by pulling down 42 percent of the New Hampshire primary vote. Four days later, Bobby announced he was in.

Ted now threw everything he had into getting his brother elected. He headed west to line up support from big-city mayors and labor leaders and dispatched Doherty to run Bobby’s campaign in Indiana, the first primary in which he hoped to compete. The fact that Doherty, who knew little about Indiana, would be running so critical a state for Bobby was an indication of how rushed and improvised the whole operation was.

Two weeks later, Ted was dining with Doherty at an Indianapolis hotel when they watched Lyndon Johnson shock the nation with his announcement that he wouldn’t run for reelection. After Bobby won the Indiana primary, the focus shifted to the biggest prize: California.

On the night of June 4, Ted delivered a speech in San Francisco, thanking Bobby’s Northern California workers. Returning to their suite at The Fairmont hotel, he and Dave Burke flicked on the television to watch Bobby deliver his victory speech from Los Angeles.

“Be quiet, be quiet!” someone was yelling on the TV, straining to rise above the pandemonium. “Everyone be quiet!”

“What the hell’s going on?” Ted asked Burke.

“I don’t know,” Burke replied, trying to suppress his panic.

“We’d better go there.”

Hearing that Bobby had been shot, Burke rushed out of the room and sprinted down 12 flights of stairs to the lobby, where he arranged a flight to LA. The whole flight, gregarious, backslapping Teddy barely said a word.

The next day, after it was clear Bobby could not be saved, his spokesman Frank Mankiewicz was walking out of Bobby’s hospital room when he spied a figure standing in the adjoining, dimly lit bathroom. It was Ted. “I have never, ever, nor do I expect ever, to see a face more in grief,” Mankiewicz recalls.

Ted spent much of the night before Bobby’s funeral driving around New York with his close college friend and former aide, John Culver, who was now a congressman. By now, Culver knew that as garrulous as Ted could be in happy times, in grief he turned inward and quiet.

Ted stayed strong as he delivered the eulogy to his brother, his voice cracking only near the end. “Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today,” he said, “pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world.”

The whole world was watching, but Ted was all alone. Jack’s assassination had left him devastated, but at least Bobby had been there to be his rock. Bobby’s assassination removed the final buffer. Ted now felt the obligation to lead the sprawling family, especially Bobby’s, which was still growing, since Ethel was pregnant with their 11th child.

Much more would be asked of him.

Going into the Democratic National Convention in Chicago just two months later, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and other powerbrokers pushed Ted to agree to be drafted as the presidential nominee. They decided the divided Democrats were doomed to lose the presidency under presumptive nominee Hubert Humphrey. Only a Kennedy could unite them.

Eventually, Kennedy instructed Culver to deliver a letter to the convention chairman stating his refusal to accept the nomination. Culver says Kennedy knew that even if he were able to win, it would only be as a stand-in for his brothers. If Kennedy delayed in quashing the draft movement, Culver says, it had less to do with genuine interest in the job than with his sense of duty to keep the country together, to end the war that was tearing it apart, and to honor his brothers by carrying out their agendas.

In his six years as a senator, Ted had found his place. After a lifetime of coming up short in comparisons to his brothers, he had already proved himself to be a more effective legislator than either Jack or Bobby. If he could honor their legacies without changing offices, Culver says, that would have been his preference.

Besides, no one could have foreseen how his presidential prospects would forever be changed just one year later. “He felt understandably that he was 36 years old,” Culver says, “and that ring would come around again.”


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Their sorrows, his cause

It is one thing about Ted Kennedy no one doubts: His gift for consolation, for somehow always being there


Three-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr. salutes his father’s casket in Washington on Nov. 25, 1963, three days after the president was assassinated in Dallas. Jacqueline Kennedy and daughter Caroline Kennedy are accompanied by Edward Kennedy (left) and Robert Kennedy.
Even though he had just lost a key vote in the Senate on a cherished piece of legislation — the patients’ bill of rights — there was a lightness to Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s step as he strode out of the Capitol on a Thursday night in mid-July of 1999.

For one thing, he knew the legislative battle was not over. “We’ll be back to fight and fight and fight again,” Kennedy vowed. But what really buoyed the senator’s spirits was the prospect of the wedding that weekend of his niece, Rory, the youngest child of his brother Bobby, at the family compound in Hyannis Port. Rory had been born six months after her father was assassinated in June 1968 — a turning point in Ted Kennedy’s life, the moment when, though only 36, he was thrust into the role of family patriarch.

The wedding promised to be the kind of family event that Kennedy absolutely reveled in, and as he walked down the Capitol steps, he talked animatedly about how much he was looking forward to it. He knew the compound would fill up with the two dozen niecesand nephews to whom he was affectionately known as “the Grand Fromage” — French for “the big cheese.” He had been a surrogate dad through much of their youth, taking them on camping trips to the Berkshires, bringing them to Civil War battlefields, teaching them to sail, beaming up at them from the pew at their First Communions.

“He’s more than an uncle to his nieces and nephews,” says Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy. “I just feel so lucky to have the connection to my father and my whole family history.”

On those trips, Kennedy made sure to carve out time to take the youngsters, singly or in pairs, for walks in the woods or strolls on the beach. Though the ostensible purpose was to steep the children in an appreciation of history and nature, Kennedy was also intent on sending a message: We are an unbreakable unit.

“Those kids, he was the father to all of them,” says Don Dowd, a friend who drove the clan on those outings. “They all relied on him: John’s kids, and Bobby’s, and his own.”

But there was another, sadder duty for which the Kennedy family had come to rely on him. When there is a family crisis, notes Caroline, “He’s the first person who calls, the first person who shows up.” And it was that grim duty — rather than singing, dancing, and toasting at Rory’s wedding — that Ted Kennedy would have to shoulder, once again, that summer weekend in 1999. And it was Caroline in particular who would need Kennedy’s support.

On the night of Friday, July 16, setting in motion a drama that would rivet the nation and crack the heart of anyone old enough to remember a little boy’s salute, a single-engine Piper Saratoga piloted by John F. Kennedy Jr. plunged into the ocean off Martha’s Vineyard. It would be four days before the bodies of John Jr., 38, along with his wife, 33-year-old Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her 34-year-old sister, Lauren Bessette, would be found.

The senator had arrived in Hyannis Port earlier on Friday. A festive air surrounded the wedding preparations, with a large white tent on the lawn for the nearly 300 invited guests. Late that night, Kennedy was awakened with the news that John Jr.’s plane was overdue. Kennedy anxiously placed a call to John’s apartment in the TriBeCa neighborhood of New York City. A friend who was staying in the apartment answered the phone. Kennedy asked him whether, perhaps, John’s plane had not left. The friend told Kennedy that it had.

Around 2 a.m., a family friend telephoned the Coast Guard at Woods Hole to report a missing plane. By early morning, a rescue mission was in full swing and a heartsick Ted Kennedy had to step into a role with which he was all too familiar. Caroline was not there — she was on a rafting vacation in Idaho with her husband and three children — but the senator did his best to console other family members.

On Sunday — which was, by grim coincidence, the 30th anniversary of Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick accident — three priests said Mass for the family under the white tent that had been set up for Rory’s wedding. A day later, Kennedy released a statement to the media whose opening sentence said it all: “We are filled with unspeakable grief and sadness by the loss of John and Carolyn, and of Lauren Bessette.” He kept in constant contact with officials, checking on the progress of the search. At one point, to give family members a respite from their anguished vigil, he took several of them sailing on his boat, the Mya.

On Monday, he flew to Sagaponack, Long Island, to console Caroline, who had returned to her home there. Exactly 13 years earlier to the day, Kennedy had given Caroline away at her wedding. Since then, he had become such a jovial fixture in her family life that Caroline’s 11-year-old daughter Rose drifted off to sleep each night clutching a stuffed animal she called Uncle Teddy.

It was less than two months since Caroline and Ted had been together for the annual Profiles in Courage dinner. Introducing him, Caroline had said of her uncle: “He has always been there for everyone who needs him.”

Now he was there for her. He visited with Caroline’s family for hours inside her brown-shingled two-story home. As the day wore on, sensing that the children needed a break, he brought Rose, 9-year-old Tatiana, and 6-year-old John outdoors for a spirited game of pickup basketball. It was a humid day, so the 67-year-old Kennedy played shirtless. His laughter punctuated the slap-slap-slap rhythm of the basketball as he called out the shots. Later, though, he spent an hour on the phone, checking on the search and recovery operation back on the Cape.

After he returned to Hyannis Port, the bad news was not long in coming. Late Tuesday night, a section of the plane’s fuselage was discovered on the ocean floor seven miles off Martha’s Vineyard, with John Jr.’s body still strapped inside. The bodies of Carolyn and Lauren lay nearby. Around noon on Wednesday, Kennedy and his two sons, Ted Jr. and Patrick, were transported near the site where the bodies had been found. At 4:30 p.m., the bodies of John Jr., Carolyn, and Lauren were brought to the surface. Kennedy helped identify John’s body.

One day later, Kennedy led the funeral party as it left the family compound and boarded a Navy destroyer for a private ceremony. Family members cast John’s ashes, and those of Carolyn and Lauren, into the ocean.

Delivering the eulogy for his nephew the next day at the memorial service, as he had for his own brother Bobby and for his mother, Rose, Kennedy fondly recalled the time when JFK Jr. was asked what he would do if he were elected president. John had replied with a grin: “I guess the first thing is call up Uncle Teddy and gloat.” Said his uncle: “I loved that. It was so like his father.”

Kennedy’s voice cracked when he ended his tribute to John by paraphrasing a poem by William Butler Yeats: “We dared to think, in that other Irish phrase, that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side. But like his father, he had every gift but length of years.”

After Kennedy concluded his eulogy, Caroline rose from her pew and clasped him in a hug.

The last is now the leader

Kennedy, who turns 77 today, had never expected to become the custodian of his family’s sorrows. But when that role was thrust upon him, he learned to submerge his own pain enough to provide strength and reassurance for the rest of the family. As for himself, friends say, he coped by making room in his memory for the good times as well as the bad.”You try to live with the upside and the positive aspects of it, the happier aspects and the joyous aspects, and try to muffle down the other kinds of concerns and anxiety and the sadness of it, and know that you have no alternative but to continue on,” Kennedy said less than a year after John Jr.’s death. “And so you do.”

It underscored the evolution that surprised so many people who knew the Kennedys: Teddy, the baby of the family, who had grown into a man who could sometimes be dissolute and reckless, had become the steady, indispensable patriarch, the one the family turned to in good times and bad.

A similar evolution played out in Kennedy’s public life. When he first ran for the Senate at age 30, he was seen as a callow opportunist riding his brother Jack’s coattails. But nearly five decades later, at an age when most people were retired, he remained consumed by the ham-and-egg details of constituent service, enacting the ethos taught to him by his grandfather, Honey Fitz. He still wanted to be the man constituents called when they were in a pinch.

Kennedy seemed to know, deep down, that if his life were to be marked by a heroic quality, it was not to be the lit-by-lightning kind his martyred brothers had, but rather the day-to-day reliability that John Updike captured in paying tribute to another Boston legend named Ted, one of Kennedy’s boyhood heroes: Theodore Samuel Williams.

“For me, Williams is the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill,” Updike wrote. “Baseball is a game of the long season, of relentless and gradual averaging-out.”

So is politics. And in the long season of Ted Kennedy’s political career, any averaging-out would have to take into account his indefatigable exertions on behalf of people in need, at those times when — to them and, in a way, to him too — everything was at stake.

As a new century dawned, that quality would be tested anew by two convulsive events: the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the war in Iraq.

One transforming morning

Ted Kennedy stared at the television. “That can’t be a mistake,” he said grimly.It was around 9 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. Kennedy was standing stock-still in his outer office. A television on the desk of his chief of staff, Mary Beth Cahill, was tuned to live coverage of a shocking event that had just occurred: the crash of a plane into the World Trade Center in New York City.

The magnitude of the crisis was not yet known, and he had an important guest to prepare for. First lady Laura Bush was slated to arrive. They had scheduled a meeting that morning in advance of her testimony before the Senate education committee.

Mrs. Bush walked into the office. She had heard about the plane, but, like Kennedy, did not yet know that a terrorist attack was under way. The two of them went into his private office and began to talk. Then the second plane hit. Cahill hastily scribbled a note and hurried into Kennedy’s office. Kennedy told Mrs. Bush what had happened. The two of them hastened to the outer office and stood, their eyes glued to the TV coverage until Secret Service agents hustled Mrs. Bush away to a secure location.

Kennedy accompanied her until she was off the Capitol grounds, then turned back toward his office. There would be a lot of work to do in the days ahead.

A voice of solace, strength

When Cindy McGinty of Foxborough first heard the voice on the other end of the line, so instantly recognizable with its impossibly broad vowels, she wondered who had chosen the worst possible time to play a prank on her. That couldn’t really be Ted Kennedy, could it?  It was Sept. 12, 2001. One day earlier, McGinty’s 42-year-old husband, Mike, who was on the 99th floor of the North Tower in the World Trade Center, had been killed. Her two sons, aged 7 and 8, had lost their father. “I was totally grief-stricken, scared out of my mind,” recalls McGinty.

But now Ted Kennedy — for it was indeed he — was telling her how sorry he was for her loss and was saying that if there was anything she needed she should contact his office. There was nothing rote about his words, she recalls; no sense that he was hurrying through a list.

Yet over the next few weeks, Kennedy called each of the 177 families in Massachusetts who lost loved ones in 9/11. One was Sally White, of Walpole, who describes herself as a “dyed-in-the-wool conservative Republican,” and whose daughter, Susan Blair, died in the 9/11 attacks. The last person whose voice she expected to hear on her telephone was that of the quintessential liberal Democrat. “I had not heard from one local politician, one medium politician, or certainly any federal guy. Nothing,” says White. “He was the first one to call and offer assistance, or even sympathy.”

Kennedy framed his words to White in the most personal of terms: He told her that his family’s experience of loss had acquainted him with pain, and he talked about the time he had spent with Caroline after John Jr. was killed. He asked the grieving mother what Susan had been like. “He talked to me like he was my next-door neighbor, my best friend,” White says. “He had all the time in the world for me. I was just overwhelmed by a person of his stature reaching out to me.”

Those phone calls were the beginning of a special relationship with the families. “He saw this from the very beginning as a huge moment in the country’s history,” Cahill says. “The fact that [two of] the planes took off from Boston: He insisted that this become a special task for the office. It became calls to the families on a daily basis.”

Like Kennedy, the 9/11 families had experienced shattering personal losses in full public view. Like him, they had to grieve with the eyes of the world upon them. So while he tried to cut bureaucratic red tape for them, he also performed acts of personal kindness that were not written into the job description of United States senator.

A month after that initial phone call, McGinty received an invitation from Kennedy’s office to come to Boston for a meeting at the Park Plaza Hotel. By that point, McGinty, like many other 9/11 relatives, was feeling outgunned in a bureaucratic battle. The agencies that were supposed to help them were drowning them in paperwork instead. Getting something as simple as a death certificate was a challenge. It was unclear what benefits they were eligible for, or how to apply.

McGinty walked into a conference room at the Park Plaza, and there sat scores of people just like her. It was the first time these 9/11 family members had had a chance to meet one another.

Kennedy knew the emotional value of such a meeting, but he had a pragmatic agenda as well. He was intent on connecting the families with agencies that could help them. Ranged around the room were representatives from the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Social Security Administration, the United Way, and other governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations.

McGinty drew a breath, got to her feet, and spoke bluntly. “You have no idea how hard this is for us,” she said. “I know you want to help, but you’re not being helpful . . . Every one of you wants something from me. But you’re making it too hard.” The other family members clapped. Kennedy looked startled. As he left the meeting, McGinty would later learn, he turned to an aide and said: “I don’t want to ever hear that Mrs. McGinty or one of the other families has this problem. Fix it!”

He arranged for an advocate, whose task was to help with the paperwork and applications for assistance, to be available to each 9/11 family. He assigned two staffers to work for a full year on the needs of the group. On Capitol Hill, he helped push through legislation to provide healthcare and grief counseling benefits for the families. He urged Senate majority leader Tom Daschle to support the appointment of a former Kennedy chief of staff, Kenneth Feinberg, as the special master of the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.

But Kennedy remained a lifeline for the families in ways that were often not in public view.

One summer day in 2002, the phone rang in the McGinty home. It was a Kennedy staffer, who asked McGinty: “What are you doing this weekend? How would you like to go sailing with the senator?” That weekend, McGinty, her two sons, and three of her relatives sailed in the waters off Hyannis on the Mya, with Kennedy at the helm. He cracked jokes and told stories, putting the children at ease.

A year later, McGinty was seated near Kennedy at a 9/11 ceremony. He scribbled something on his program, then pushed it across the table to her. “How are your two little sailors doing?” the note read.

When Kennedy learned that Christie Coombs of Abington, whose husband, Jeff, was killed on 9/11, had set up a charitable foundation in her husband’s name, he began sending her watercolors, painted and signed by him, for her to auction off. When he learned that Sally White was running a fund-raiser in Susan’s name for special needs children, Kennedy sent her a signed painting he had done of the Mya.

As the anniversary of Sept. 11 neared each year, Kennedy made sure to send a letter to the families. To Coombs, he wrote on Sept. 11, 2005: “Dear Christie, Vicki and I wanted you to know that we are thinking of you and your entire family during this difficult time of year. As you know so well, the passage of time never really heals the tragic memory of such a great loss, but we carry on, because we have to, because our loved one would want us to, and because there is still light to guide us in the world from the love they gave us.”

In those words — “we carry on, because we have to” — Coombs sees evidence that Kennedy’s own losses have given him insight into hers. “It feels very personal,” she says. “This just tells me that he knows. He gets it. And so few people do.”

War’s foe, soldiers’ friend

From the beginning, Kennedy argued that the war in Iraq was a mistake. Convinced that President George W. Bush had not made the case that Iraq represented an imminent threat to the United States, Kennedy was one of only 23 senators to vote on Oct. 11, 2002, against the resolution granting Bush the authority to invade Iraq.”The power to declare war is the most solemn responsibility given to Congress by the Constitution,” Kennedy said on the Senate floor. “We must not delegate that responsibility to the president in advance.”

Later, as the insurgency grew and many other senators were shielding their opposition in the name of supporting the troops, Kennedy declared Iraq to be “Bush’s Vietnam.”

In his view, he was supporting the troops — and he took a personal interest in soldiers from Massachusetts. By October 2003, more than a dozen Massachusetts troops had lost their lives in Iraq. Twenty-year-old John D. Hart of Bedford was the latest.

Kennedy called the grieving parents, Brian and Alma Hart, to ask whether he could attend John’s burial. Brian said yes, adding that there was something about John’s death he wanted to discuss with him. So on Nov. 4, an SUV pulled up inside Arlington National Cemetery and Kennedy emerged, accompanied by two aides. They and the Harts went into the office of the cemetery administrator for a private conversation. Kennedy, who often stopped by Arlington National Cemetery to visit the graves of his brothers, began with some personal advice. “The best time to visit Arlington is the morning,” he said. “It’s cooler, and the crowds aren’t there yet.”

Brian and Alma told the senator that John had been ambushed while riding in a canvas-topped Humvee that had no armor, no bulletproof shields, not even a metal door. And they told him that John had predicted that very scenario just a few days earlier, in an anxious phone call home. Brian told Kennedy how, since John’s death, he had dug into the issue of armored vehicles, conducting research online and calling manufacturing plants. He told Kennedy his research indicated armored Humvees were not being manufactured at anywhere close to the necessary rate.

Kennedy’s face tightened as he listened. He had already been tracking this issue. Of the Massachusetts soldiers killed in the first phase of the Iraq war, fully one-third had died in unarmored trucks or Humvees. Kennedy told the Harts that he would hold a hearing on the matter. Still, it was hard for them not to feel at least some skepticism about a politician’s — any politician’s — promise. “Do you think we’ll ever hear from him?” Alma asked Brian as they walked to the gravesite.

Within two weeks, Kennedy was grilling the Army chief of staff and the acting secretary of the Army in a hearing on the shortages of armored Humvees and body armor. When the officials told him it would take two years to produce a sufficient supply of armored Humvees, Kennedy demanded to know whether manufacturing plants were running 24 hours a day.

Kennedy and Hart became a sort of Mr. Inside-Mr. Outside team, pressuring the Army to speed up its acquisition process for armored Humvees. In early 2004, the Army announced plans for a doubling, from 220 to 450 a month, of heavily armored Humvees. Kennedy cosponsored legislation to provide $213 million to ensure that every Humvee that rolled off an assembly line was adequately armored. On April 21, 2005, the legislation passed, 60-40.

On the wall of the Harts’ dining room is a large, framed tally sheet recording that Senate roll-call vote. It bears an inscription: “To Brian & Alma, This one was for you and for John. We couldn’t have done it without you. April 05.”

It is signed “Ted Kennedy.”

Into twilight, fire still burns

In the decades since his 1980 presidential race, Kennedy’s national reputation had hardened. Respected by liberals, he was so detested by conservatives that the mere mention of his name helped rake in GOP fund-raising dollars. But as he entered his 70s with unflagging energy, his conservative foes began to concede that there was something admirable in fighting that relentlessly on behalf of the people and the principles he cared about. Liberals, meanwhile, began to show their appreciation to Kennedy for carrying the liberal standard through several conservative Republican administrations.It was against that backdrop that Kennedy took the stage in January 2004 at a packed high school gymnasium in Davenport, Iowa. He was there on behalf of his Massachusetts colleague, Senator John Kerry, who faced an uphill battle in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, with the all-important Iowa caucus less than two weeks away. There was reason to doubt how much good a Kennedy appearance would do. After all, Iowa had soundly rejected him in 1980, choosing Jimmy Carter instead.

Kennedy didn’t skirt that issue. With a grin on his face, he reminded the assembled Iowans: “You voted for my brother. You voted for my other brother. You didn’t vote for me!” The crowd roared with laughter. Kennedy continued, bellowing: “But if you vote for John Kerry, I’ll forgive you!”

Kennedy stumped repeatedly for Kerry, convincing many blue-collar and minority voters that Kerry should be their guy. Thanks in part to Kennedy, Kerry pulled off an upset in Iowa and eventually won the Democratic nomination.

When Kennedy finished his roof-raising speech that first night in Davenport, “Love Train,” the 1973 hit by the soul group The O’Jays, began pumping in over the PA system. Kennedy began to dance, his massive bulk swaying from side to side. He looked over at Mary Beth Cahill and winked. He was having the time of his life.

‘I will be there’

When news broke in May 2008 that Ted Kennedy had a malignant brain tumor, many 9/11 families saw an opportunity to give something back to a man who had given them so much.To most, the news was almost unthinkable. Kennedy had been back on the national stage in force, conferring a timely endorsement on Barack Obama for president — a move that now seemed almost to be a passing of the torch: Jack’s torch, Bobby’s torch, and his own.

Coombs sent him an email urging him to keep his spirits up. Then she wrote about Kennedy’s illness in the journal she keeps, addressing her thoughts, as always, to her late husband, Jeff.

When McGinty heard about Kennedy’s illness, she felt as if she had been punched in the stomach. But she rallied and said to herself: “This cancer doesn’t know what it’s up against.” She sent Kennedy several get-well cards, along with a book titled “Listening is an Act of Love.”

But like many of his well-wishers, she had no idea whether Kennedy would be well enough to make it to Denver for the Democratic National Convention, an event all the more significant because Obama would become the first African-American presidential nominee, something that heartened the old civil rights warrior in Kennedy.

By all medical logic, he should not have been anywhere near the convention. It was less than three months since he had undergone brain surgery. His usual moon face was further bloated from antiseizure medication. His mane of white hair had been thinned by cancer treatments.

But there he stood, looking out at thousands of delegates, many waving blue signs with “KENNEDY” in white letters. Before Kennedy took the stage, several TV commentators had remarked on the strange absence of passion and a coherent message inside the Pepsi Center.

If there was anything Ted Kennedy knew how to deliver, it was a passionate message. “It is so wonderful to be here,” he told the delegates, and gave a little laugh. “Nothing — nothing — is going to keep me away from this special gathering tonight.”

Kennedy proceeded to give the convention a much-needed jolt of adrenaline. In a voice that was still capable of rhetorical thunder, he spoke urgently about what he called the cause of his life: universal healthcare. He promised that Obama would close the book on the old politics of race, gender, and group. And then he brought the house down with this declaration: “I pledge to you that I will be there, next January, on the floor of the United States Senate, when we begin to write the next great chapter of American progress.”

He lumbered away from the podium to chants of “Teddy! Teddy!”

There, onstage, was Vicki, who had barely left his side in three months, along with his own children, Ted Jr., Patrick, and Kara, and his stepchildren, Curran and Caroline Raclin. There, too, were Caroline and several of the younger generation of Kennedys to whom he had been such an emotional bulwark.

In her Foxborough home, Cindy McGinty sat on her living room couch and watched, her eyes filled with tears. “There’s just nothing that keeps that man down,” she remembers thinking. She thought of all that Kennedy had done for her and countless others who were in need over the past half-century.

There had been a largeness to his flaws during that time. But there had been a largeness of spirit, too. As McGinty looked at the TV screen, she saw not a legend but a friend. “He’s a real person,” she says. “He’s not just a picture in a history book.”

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A towering record, painstakingly built


Senator mastered the arts of gesture, compromise

On a sweeping Patients’ Bill of Rights package, Kennedy “wanted McCain’s name to be first, mine second and his third,” remembers John Edwards who at the time was a junior senator from North Carolina.
Ted Kennedy had a long list of bills that he wanted to get through the Senate, and he had spent decades mastering the multilayered negotiating tactics needed to turn them into laws.His high-powered staff, by the late 1990s, had become the body’s chief engine of legislation. It was like a school of government whose graduates included corporate leaders, senior White House aides, and a future Supreme Court justice, Stephen Breyer.

And by the start of 1997, Kennedy saw a chance to get Senate approval for one of his cherished goals: a new children’s healthcare program, funded by a hefty hike in the tobacco tax.

As his colleagues almost unanimously conceded, he knew the Senate better than anyone else. It was a club, and he functioned as a kind of membership chairman, bestowing little kindnesses on his colleagues and keeping track of each member’s personal interests.

It was hard and often tedious work, but it suited his outgoing personality — and his utter determination to expand healthcare and education.

For the children’s healthcare program, he knew he needed his longtime friend and conservative colleague Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Hatch, a devout Mormon with a manner as proper and dignified as Kennedy’s was florid and chummy, was concerned about children’s health and abhorred smoking. But Kennedy sensed his conservative counterpart was also nervous about the idea of a tax hike and afraid the plan would give too much power to the federal government.

Words were not closing the deal. So Kennedy turned to song, corralling his chief of staff, Nick Littlefield, an accomplished singer, to learn some of the ultrapatriotic songs Hatch had written and then indulge Hatch’s off-duty passion for music by performing them.

As a surprise, Kennedy and Littlefield made the trek to Hatch’s office — unusual for the protocol-sensitive Senate, where normally the more junior member would make the trip through the Capitol’s tunnels — and Littlefield serenaded the Utah Republican with one of Hatch’s signature tunes, “Freedom’s Light.”

Hatch was impressed. “He can really belt out a song,” Hatch says of Littlefield, adding, “It’s one of [Kennedy’s] ways of trying to placate me.”

The song broke the tension in negotiations. Still, Kennedy kept up the pressure. He invited Hatch to dinner at his nine-bedroom estate in McLean, Va., a tactic that had disarmed and intimidated policymakers in the past.

The two senators shared a leisurely meal with Kennedy’s wife, Vicki, who is also close to Hatch. By the end of the evening — which a charmed Hatch told Kennedy was one of the loveliest he’d ever spent — Hatch was sold, agreeing to Kennedy’s $20 billion price tag, including an extra billion dollars that Vicki had suggested at the close of the evening.

In return, Kennedy worked with Hatch to find mutually acceptable terms for how the money should be spent.

Unexpected courtesies, friendships, singing — all can move mountains in the 19th-century club known as the United States Senate. And Ted Kennedy, by the end of the 20th century, had learned to move mountains.

The fine art of the compromise

The battle over the children’s health initiative known as SCHIP defined the manner of persuasion that Kennedy had refined over the decades.He was, by the ’90s, well aware of the power of his celebrity, impressing policy advocates and opponents alike by inviting them to his home, and showing junior members of the Senate around his Capitol hideaway office with its oil portrait of his grandfather Honey Fitz and the desk his father, Joe Sr., had used as ambassador to the Court of St. James.

He was especially generous in sharing credit for legislation, unusual in the often competitive Senate. On a sweeping Patients’ Bill of Rights package, for instance, Kennedy “wanted [GOP Senator John] McCain’s name to be first, mine second, and his third,” remembers John Edwards, who at the time was a junior North Carolina senator.

Kennedy also made a point of phoning his colleagues and their family members at times of personal crisis, a gesture made even more powerful by the implicit reminder of the tragedies Kennedy himself had endured. He was among the first to call when the son of Oregon’s Republican senator Gordon Smith committed suicide. He stood by West Virginia’s fragile and elderly Democrat Robert Byrd when he lost his beloved wife of 68 years, Erma. Asked for advice on bone cancer treatment for the nephew of Ohio Republican George Voinovich, Kennedy delivered — along with a personal call and painting to the ailing nephew.

But perhaps most important, Kennedy understood the art of compromise and the value of incremental progress.

“He realized he would have to win small battles, to try to piece together some sort of plan or goal,” says Senate majority whip Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who has worked with Kennedy on a range of issues.

“I can’t imagine how many thousands of compromises [he’s made], or how many times his heart has been broken” trying to get his colleagues on board for the raft of education, health, and civil rights legislation he has shepherded throughout the years, Durbin adds. “He tried to put together not all that he wanted, but what he could get.”

It was a lesson Kennedy learned the hard way. In 1971, President Nixon unveiled a plan to expand healthcare to nearly all Americans through their employers, with the federal government subsidizing insurance premiums for the poor. The plan was strikingly similar to many that Democrats would put forth in subsequent years. But in the early 1970s, the then 39-year-old senator from Massachusetts wanted more. He stubbornly held out for a straight up national healthcare system paid for through general revenues and Social Security taxes.

“It’s really a partnership between the administration and insurance companies,” Kennedy griped in 1971 about the Nixon plan. “It’s not a partnership between patients and doctors of this nation.”

In the end, neither the Nixon plan nor the Kennedy proposal passed, and Kennedy would wonder, decades later, if he had missed his only chance to install a plan — even an imperfect one — that would give every American the chance to get health insurance.

“We should have jumped on that,” Kennedy said.

A defining issue

He would apply that lesson to a wide range of issues since Nixon’s health plan was introduced. From immigration to housing discrimination, from rights for the disabled to providing more help to poor children and struggling college hopefuls, Kennedy adopted the long view, slowly wearing down the opposition until he got part of what he wanted.Then, he’d come right back with a new proposal to get a bit closer to his ultimate goal.

The determination impressed — and sometimes exasperated — his colleagues. Representative George Miller of California, who worked with Kennedy to increase the minimum wage in 2007 — an effort 10 years in the making — recalls Kennedy’s response during a jubilant rally to celebrate the House’s passage of the bill. Kennedy gave a rousing speech near the Russell Senate Office Building to thank supporters.

Still clapping his raised hands, Kennedy leaned over to Miller. “I’m introducing a new bill to increase the minimum wage again,” he said, Miller recalls. When an incredulous Miller noted that they hadn’t even finished celebrating the latest wage hike, Kennedy replied, “I know, but we’ve got to move on this.”

The signature relentlessness has paid off for Kennedy, whom colleagues in both parties describe as the most effective modern member of the Senate, and whom historians measure against a handful of the most effective senators in history.

Kennedy’s office has written about 2,500 bills, and more than 300 have become law. In addition, more than 550 bills Kennedy has cosponsored since 1973 — the first year Senate records showed lists of cosponsors — have been enacted.

Much of that hefty pile of legislation has involved healthcare, for which Kennedy has won, bit by bit, some of the elements of the sweeping national healthcare plan he has failed to accomplish in one omnibus program.

The list of healthcare programs Kennedy has pushed forward reads like alphabet soup.

In 1972, he was a chief architect of the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which provides food assistance and access to health services for low-income women and their children. That was followed by SCHIP in 1997, and in 2006, Kennedy further extended federal assistance for children’s health, working with Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa to pass the Family Opportunity Act, which expanded Medicaid coverage for children with special needs.

The 1985 COBRA law allowed workers to continue their health insurance while between jobs. Kennedy followed that in 1996 with HIPAA, which limited the ability of insurance companies to use preexisting conditions to deny coverage for patients. Later, Kennedy came in with a Mental Health Parity law to thwart insurance industry efforts to limit lifetime coverage of mental health conditions.

Kennedy’s accomplishments in healthcare have been outweighed, in his mind, by failures to secure approval for larger, broader-based health bills. The Clinton healthcare plan of 1994 — which Kennedy had worked to pass despite not having been closely involved in its writing — fell flat, spooking Democrats away from healthcare proposals for years afterward. The 2001 Patients’ Bill of Rights, which Kennedy had so painstakingly negotiated, lost momentum after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Kennedy’s Medicare prescription drug plan of 2003 was so rewritten by Republicans that he ended up voting against it — though some of his closest allies believe it was still a great victory.

“I think the lesson he learned from the Nixon era is a lesson that history teaches us: You should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” said Bill Novelli, chief executive of the American Association of Retired Persons, which broke with Kennedy to endorse the final bill. “The Medicare Modernization Act was certainly not perfect, but the idea was, get it done and improve it over the coming years.”

Partnership trumps partisanship

Orrin Hatch despised Kennedy long before he loved him. A Pittsburgh-born lawyer who put himself through school before settling with his wife and six children in Salt Lake City, Hatch had never intended to go into politics, and waited until the last day to file for the US Senate race in Utah in 1976.And the former Mormon missionary says he had a single goal in entering Washington politics — “to fight Ted Kennedy.” To be clear, Hatch notes, it was not to fight the Democrats, or control government spending, or advance a social agenda consistent with Hatch’s abstemious ways. This was personal. Kennedy was the target, and Hatch thought he was the person who could bring down the Senate’s most vocal emblem of East Coast liberalism.

But when Hatch in 1981 assumed the chairmanship of what was then called the Labor Committee — an excellent venue for a conservative mission — he quickly identified a major hurdle: two Republicans on the panel were left-leaning, meaning Hatch did not have a true majority.

So Hatch went to Kennedy, asking for his help, and got it, although Kennedy said he would not be willing to team up on legislation opposed by labor unions. But they would find common ground on other bills aimed at helping workers, and soon Hatch and Kennedy were working together on some of the most significant public-health legislation of the era.

Hatch’s decision to work with Kennedy has baffled many in the GOP.

“A lot of them tend to get pretty upset with me,” Hatch concedes. The political partnership grew over time into more than a working relationship. In the odd way that opposites sometimes attract each other, Kennedy and Hatch formed a mutually reinforcing alliance, alerting each other to excesses in the other’s personality. Far from fighting Ted Kennedy, Hatch was now enabling his agenda and standing by him as a friend through difficult times.

“A lot of my memories of this are when Kennedy was footloose and doing a lot of crazy things, mostly with Chris Dodd, and Hatch was always the straitlaced guy,” says Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat. “There were all these jokes back and forth, Hatch telling him he should straighten up, Teddy telling him he should loosen up.”

Hatch and Kennedy’s partnership reached a pivotal moment with the 1995 debate over the extension of what was tagged the Ryan White bill, an emergency relief plan to help the top 13 US cities hit by the AIDS crisis.

Former North Carolina senator Jesse Helms — nicknamed “Senator No” for his obstruction of liberal initiatives — put forward a politically troublesome amendment insisting that none of the AIDS money could be used to advance homosexuality. The amendment could have limited cities’ ability to reach into the gay community to promote condom use and other ways to prevent the spread of the disease.

But politically, it was an ingenious move, Hatch says, because many Democratic senators harbored presidential ambitions and didn’t want to be accused of endorsing gay promiscuity, especially in relation to the spread of AIDS.

Kennedy thundered against Helms on the Senate floor, his decibel level rising. But he was getting nowhere. Then Hatch took on Helms.

“I stood up and said ‘Senator, I know you’re sincere. But this is not a gay rights bill. This is a public health bill,’ ” Hatch says. His move gave Democrats and Republicans the cover necessary to oppose Helms.

“That was the end of the battle, and Helms knew it,” Hatch says.

The reauthorization of the Ryan White Bill, named in the memory of a youngster who contracted the disease from a blood transfusion, went through. It was extended again in 2000, when Kennedy and others, including Hatch, secured $9 billion for the program. About half of the between 800,000 and 900,000 Americans living with AIDS now rely solely on Ryan White program funds to manage their disease.

The relationship between Kennedy and Hatch remained an elaborate dance even after decades of working together. “Ted, I love you like a brother,” Hatch would start out saying. “I know you don’t feel the same way about me.” Kennedy professed his affections, the two would begin working on legislation — and then would fight mightily over the details.

Sometimes, Hatch says, when he believed Kennedy was being stubborn, he would pull out his own weapon: He would threaten to call Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Massachusetts lawmaker’s sister and a good friend of Hatch’s.

“I didn’t do it very often, but I would use that,” Hatch says. “He’d say, ‘Oh no! Don’t do that! We can work this out.’ ” If the septuagenarian Hatch called the octogenarian Shriver, she’d often call her brother and say, “Why are you being so mean to that nice young senator?”

Still, many of Hatch’s fellow Republicans believe Kennedy has gotten the better end of the pairing — that Hatch has been seduced by Kennedy. Like many others, Hatch had imagined Kennedy to be an arrogant, entitled liberal, and yet he came to respect — and love — the deeply committed, uncensuring man that he came to know.

“He thought he had a strong enough personality and could bring Kennedy around,” said the late Paul Weyrich, the conservative activist who was dismayed by the Kennedy-Hatch alliance. “I thought to myself, ‘You fool.’ You talk about ego. You really have to have an extraordinary ego to think that somebody as dogmatic as Kennedy is, and as important to the left in this country that he is, that he is somehow going to be changed because you are interacting with him.”

Sugar, and a dose of vinegar

Kennedy was not always the humble colleague that he became by the 1990s. Though he had a reverence for the Senate and a talent for deal-making, he came to Washington with a bit of the brash, charismatic style borrowed from his brothers.Other senators were skeptical of him, and some recall an early dressing-down by the lion of the Senate, Richard Russell of Georgia, a Southern Democrat so imposing that even Lyndon Johnson, in the White House, regarded Russell as a father figure.

Kennedy had been advised by his brother, President John F. Kennedy, to pay homage to Russell. So Kennedy trundled over to Russell’s office and attempted to break the ice by telling him they had something in common: Both had been elected to the Senate in their early 30s.

Yes, Russell responded tartly. But before I got here, he told the young Kennedy, I had been governor of Georgia. Chastened, Kennedy finished the meeting and left.

“He was a bit green,” former senator George McGovern, Democrat of South Dakota, recalls.

But over the decades, Kennedy learned not only how to win friends and stroke the necessary egos, he also learned how to use his gravitas as Russell did — to cast an aura and, if necessary, to dress down detractors.

Kennedy employed all his skills as he built support for the Americans with Disabilities Act, a 1990 law that Kennedy considered one of the most important civil rights measures of his career.

Helping the disabled was a personal issue for Kennedy, who had a mentally disabled sister and a son who lost a leg to bone cancer. Kennedy wanted a law that would protect disabled Americans from job discrimination and guarantee them access to public facilities.

As close as the issue was to Kennedy’s own heart, he asked Senator Harkin, who had a deaf brother, to take the lead — a gesture that Harkin says “was one of the most generous, kindest things anyone has ever done for me.”

Meanwhile, Kennedy employed many of the strategies that had made him successful over the years: He found the best experts on the issue, hosted them at his home, and hashed out the language for the new law. He also identified his allies and his potential nemeses, quickly singling out former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, then chief of staff to President George H. W. Bush, as the bill’s leading skeptic. Sununu was philosophically opposed to imposing costly new requirements on businesses.

Robert Burgdorf, a professor at the University of the District of Columbia who wrote the framework for the original bill, recalls a meeting at Kennedy’s home in McLean when activists complained that the White House had been dragging its feet.

Kennedy nodded, picked up the phone, dialed some numbers, and quickly reached his target. “John! When can we expect a position from you?” Kennedy asked. A startled Sununu told him he would get one soon. “I felt it was that [call] that had broken the logjam,” Burgdorf says.

But Sununu continued to fight, nitpicking at the legislation in Capitol negotiating sessions between senators and Cabinet secretaries. At one point, Sununu lost his temper at Bobby Silverstein, an aide to Harkin. A stunned Harkin tried to defend his staffer. But Kennedy got there first, leaping up, leaning over and slamming his open hand loudly onto the table, inches from Sununu.

“You want to yell at someone? You yell at me, Sununu! You don’t yell at our staff. You don’t treat our staff that way,” a red-faced Kennedy shouted before the stunned group.

“I really thought [Kennedy] was going to punch him,” Harkin recalls.

But the tactic worked.

“Kennedy ate his lunch,” recalls Hatch, who was also there. Sununu backed down and agreed to a deal. Later, Kennedy chuckled at Sununu’s worries that the measure had gone too far and would burden business. “If Sununu only knew what was in that bill,” he’d be horrified, Kennedy told Hatch.

The flash of anger was rare for Kennedy, who more often tried to win over skeptics with sugar.

Once, on St. Patrick’s Day, he brought shamrock-shaped, green-speckled sugar cookies — on a china plate — to the notoriously irascible Representative Bill Thomas, a California Republican who chaired the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Kennedy knew all of his colleagues’ temptations. In the case of former House Judiciary Committee chairman Jack Brooks, the penchant was for cigars. In fact, it was rare to see the Texan without a cigar in his mouth.

In a last-ditch effort to get Brooks on board for an immigration bill in 1990, Kennedy located some high quality cigars, put them in a plain manila envelope, and went over to the House side of the Capitol to see Brooks. Arriving, he opened the envelope to give Brooks a peek inside, then put it on the table.

When negotiations were going Kennedy’s way, he would nudge the envelope closer to the Judiciary chairman. And when Brooks balked, Kennedy pulled it back. A tickled Brooks ended up letting the immigration bill go forward.

Common ground with Bush

Kennedy’s dealings with Hatch paved the way for another unlikely — and ultimately less-successful — cross-party relationship, this one with the man who came to the White House in 2001 after the most-disputed election in more than 100 years, George W. Bush.Kennedy’s party was still smarting over what they saw as a theft of the presidency, and Democrats were not eager to help Bush with major legislative accomplishments. But Kennedy — who had already succeeded in passing a litany of education programs from Head Start for prekindergarteners to the Direct Lending program for college students — saw in Bush a chance to accomplish a major reform of elementary and secondary education, an effort that would become No Child Left Behind.

Just weeks after Bush was inaugurated, Kennedy found himself at the White House, each man face to face with the figure the other man’s party saw as a symbol for what was wrong with the opposition.

Kennedy had not even been invited to early meetings at Bush’s Austin gubernatorial mansion before the inauguration, recalls Sandy Kress, Bush’s chief education adviser at the time. The incoming White House did not believe Kennedy was a genuine reformer.

But Bush, after an initial wariness, realized that Kennedy could be a crucial ally in achieving what the self-styled “education president” wanted in the area of better-performing schools and students.

The new president invited Kennedy to the White House to see “Thirteen Days,” a movie about John F. Kennedy’s tackling of the Cuban Missile Crisis. White House reporters declared that Bush had won over the Senate’s most intractable liberal with a signature “charm offensive.”

In truth, Kennedy hated to see movies about his brothers. But he understood Bush’s gesture for what it was — a sincere attempt to reach out.

Kennedy was surprised by the genuine passion and commitment Bush had for improving early education, Kress says, and the Bay State lawmaker was impressed when Bush gently suggested, after their first meeting, that Kennedy emphasize areas of agreement, rather than looming conflicts, when he faced the gaggle of reporters outside the White House.

And Bush was oddly deferential to Kennedy. Bush quickly assigned nicknames to Washington players — most of them undignified, such as dubbing former New Hampshire Representative Charlie Bass “Bassmaster,” a reference to a stomach-churning “Saturday Night Live” sketch. But Kennedy was given a far more respectful moniker: “The Senator.”

The Bush-Kennedy partnership paid off, with Kennedy persuading skeptical Democrats to go along with No Child Left Behind, and the Bush administration working a compliant GOP majority in Congress. The bill was signed into law in January of 2002, almost a year to the day since the two men met. But despite the bipartisan success, Kennedy’s budding relationship with Bush would prove to be less stable — and less enduring — than his partnership with Hatch.

Kennedy grew increasingly annoyed with Bush for failing to fully fund the No Child Left Behind law, and he began to face criticism from fellow Democrats unhappy with the testing requirements. Some grumbled privately that Kennedy’s love of the deal had obscured his better judgment.

The senator also faced wrath from a longtime ally, the National Education Association, whose members did not like the provisions in the law holding teachers accountable for student performance.

By 2003, Kennedy’s office estimated that the Bush administration had short-changed the program by $9 billion — a big chunk of the $29.2 billion authorized for the program that year. Kennedy declared that he had been betrayed, saying Bush had looked him “straight in the eye” during negotiations and promised to fund it up to the ceiling Congress had approved.

The White House disagreed, arguing that the Bush administration was still spending record amounts of money on education at a time when the country was fighting wars on two fronts. The relationship between Kennedy and Bush would never be the same, and each man adopted a more predictably wary stance around the other.

Kennedy would try again with the Bush administration on a Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003. Horrified by stories of seniors who had to choose between food and medicine because of the high costs of prescription drugs, Kennedy sought to expand Medicare to include drug coverage.

Again, Democrats were wary. Three years after the disputed and bitter 2000 presidential election — and gearing up for a rematch — they didn’t want to hand the president a campaign advantage among seniors. Most Democrats also thought the benefit was inadequate.

Kennedy agreed — but didn’t want to miss an opportunity. Not for years — even decades, Kennedy told colleagues privately — would a president be willing to throw $400 billion out for a new entitlement program. Yes, the benefit was flawed, but it could always be fixed later.

After continued wheedling, the Massachusetts senator won — and then lost, as Republicans rewrote the bill to discourage seniors from enrolling in Medicare and steering them toward private plans. Fearing that the bill would undermine Medicare, Kennedy spoke mightily against the measure on the Senate floor, but it passed in December of 2003.

It was, Kennedy would say afterward, another betrayal.

Still, a few years later — and after repeated conflicts with Bush on the war in Iraq and other matters — Kennedy sought a third big opportunity with the president, who by then was embattled. This time the issue was immigration.

It was a rare instance of Kennedy and Bush having largely similar goals: finding a way to deal with the estimated 12 million undocumented workers in the country, to make the immigration process more fair and more clear, and to allow a limited number of foreigners to stay in the United States temporarily as “guest workers.”

Kennedy brought together an improbable collection of senators to hammer out a bill, including conservative South a>Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Dianne Feinstein, a moderate California Democrat worried about immigration’s impact on her state’s farm industry. Republican Jon Kyl, whose home state of Arizona was the entry point for most illegal immigrants, was there.

So were two Latinos with different political perspectives — Mel Martinez, a Cuban-American Republican from Florida, and Colorado Democratic Senator Ken Salazar, who is of Mexican descent.

Kennedy asked the disparate group to tell, one by one, how their families came to America. It was a poignant moment and created an early bond that would help the odd team of negotiators get through heated fights over details of the legislation.

The Senate, in the end, defeated the measure, and an exhausted Kennedy was disappointed but philosophical about it. The first time the Senate tried to do a housing antidiscrimination bill, they were able to get just a couple of votes, Kennedy told the Globe. But by the time the measure was approved, it passed nearly unanimously, and sponsors were able to expand the bill to include age and parenthood as factors landlords could not use to reject tenants.

And Kennedy vowed to come back at immigration, saying that it generally took three Congresses — at least six years — to build the momentum for any kind of civil rights legislation. Seeds planted in 2007 might well germinate in 2013.

“Teddy’s always doing unconventional things to get what he wants,” said Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat. “I think his view is if it takes 10 years or if it takes 15 years to get a bill, then let’s do it in 15 years. He’s always had the long view and the big picture in mind.”


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An untidy private life, then a turn to stability

Senator Edward Kennedy spoke as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, right, stood by his side in 1983. At left, is Stephen Smith, Kennedy’s brother-in-law, and Caroline Kennedy.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy attended a 25th-anniversary celebration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government knowing he had a huge problem. A recent Gallup poll gave him a 22 percent national approval rating, shockingly low for a legislator of his stature. Voters regarded him with personal distaste, and most hoped he would lose his next election.
Kennedy had long been scheduled to deliver the keynote speech at the October 25, 1991, commemoration, at which he was expected to pay tribute to an institution he had helped build and a career, public service, his brothers Jack and Bobby had ennobled. Instead, a few days earlier the senator advised school officials that he had prepared a different speech, more personal in nature.

Kennedy had labored over the speech as friends and aides watched his public image take a pummeling. Spiced by published reports of heavy drinking and sexual escapades, his personal life had become punch-line fodder for late-night TV shows. At odds with the prevailing political winds, he was now perceived to have lost control of his own appetites as well.

The poll followed Senate hearings on Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the US Supreme Court, a low moment for Kennedy, who had been expected to lead the fight against the conservative African-American jurist yet played only a secondary role after sexual harassment became the hearings’ main focus. Potentially more damaging to his political future was an upcoming trial in Palm Beach, Fla., where his nephew was accused of raping a woman at the family’s estate. While not directly implicated, the senator was a key witness in a tawdry case that made headlines around the world.

Not surprisingly, many thought the senator would announce that he wasn’t running for reelection in 1994, that it was time to get his personal house in order. In fact, Kennedy was already gearing up for the toughest race of his Senate career. In many ways, this speech was the kickoff.

Media guru Robert Shrum helped Kennedy draft the speech. Accompanying him to Massachusetts was Victoria Reggie, a young Washington lawyer whom the senator had been dating for several months. The public knew virtually nothing about Reggie. Kennedy asked that she be seated close to the podium — close enough, as it turned out, that the press became suspicious.

While speaking, he betrayed little emotion.

“I am painfully aware that the criticism directed at me in recent months involves far more than disagreements with my positions,” Kennedy said, “or the usual criticism from the far right. It also involves the disappointment of friends and many others who rely on me to fight the good fight.

“To them I say, I recognize my own shortcomings — the faults in the conduct of my private life. I realize that I alone am responsible for them, and I am the one who must confront them.”

He alluded to the Thomas hearings. “Some of the anger of recent days reflects the pain of a new idea still being born,” Kennedy said. “The idea of a society where sex discrimination is ended and sexual harassment is unacceptable.” Unlike his brothers, he continued somberly, “I have been given length of years and time. And as I approach my 60th birthday, I am determined to give all that I have to advance the causes for which I have stood for almost a quarter of a century.”

He took no questions afterward.

Reaction was, to put it charitably, mixed. In The New York Times, Alessandra Stanley called it a first step “to repair the damage and restore, if not his personal reputation, then his political standing as the voice of American liberalism.” The Boston Globe’s Mike Barnicle was more skeptical, questioning whether the speech marked a true turning point, as Kennedy’s friends insisted. The senator’s so-called friends “may not be the wisest counsel available,” Barnicle quipped.

Nobody singled out the “friend” whose counsel now meant more to Kennedy than anyone’s.

Whispers coarsen into snickers

By the late 1960s, Kennedy’s reputation for heavy drinking and womanizing was well established. He provided plenty more to gossip about as he moved into middle age, not always gracefully, during his second bachelorhood in the 1980s and 90s.It was not just his yo-yoing weight and blotchy complexion that raised questions about how he lived his life. Kennedy possessed movie-star wealth and celebrity. A bachelor since his divorce in 1982, he was also a man of his generation, embracing the swinging Playboy ethos of the 1960s as ardently as he did the New Frontier spirit.

Since Chappaquiddick, Kennedy had been largely able to keep his public and private lives separate. More and more, though, his worst excesses were spilling into public view.

As far back as 1979, such reputable sources as Time magazine had been writing about his extramarital adventures. “The mere mention of Edward Kennedy’s social life is enough to make an editor’s head throb,” one story began, concluding with an anecdote about a D.C. dinner party where “14 talented and interesting men and women talked of nothing but (his) sexual activities.”

Other media entities picked up the thread, adding tales of Kennedy’s binge drinking. Rarely did they suggest alcohol was impairing his job performance. If anything, the opposite seemed true: that he was demonstrating greater command of his Senate duties than ever, even as his presidential ambitions waned. Yet as those dreams faded, along with his patched-together marriage, Kennedy’s sense of discretion seemingly vanished, too.

“Ted Kennedy always baffled me,” says former Time correspondent Lance Morrow. “He was so astonishingly productive as a senator, yet his private life was extremely messy. When it came to Kennedy’s character, you’d feel whipsawed judging it.”

Whether Kennedy was an alcoholic or not was something Morrow, for one, never resolved. The senator denied it in interviews such as the one he gave the “Today” show in 1992, when he said “absolutely not” after being asked whether he had a drinking problem.

His denial did little to quell suspicions. In a later interview on “60 Minutes,” Kennedy was again pressed about his drinking. “I went through a lot of difficult times over a period in my life where [drinking] may have been somewhat of a factor or force,” he acknowledged uncomfortably. “I never felt that myself.” Others did, he admitted.

Biting comments captured Kennedy’s growing image problem. At the 1988 Democratic Convention, he delivered a rousing “Where was George?” refrain in attacking GOP presidential nominee George H.W. Bush. “I’ll tell Teddy Kennedy where George is,” retorted Republican congressman Harold Rogers at a post-convention rally in Kentucky. “He’s home sober with his wife.”

A year later, Kennedy was stalked by paparazzi during a European vacation. One snapped the senator having sexual intercourse in a motorboat. After the National Enquirer ran photos of the tryst, Alabama senator Howell Heflin joked he was glad to see Kennedy had “changed his position on offshore drilling.”

If alarmed about Kennedy’s behavior, friends and aides seem to have taken few steps to curb it. Many downplay its excesses to this day. Whenever he left on vacation, “I’d say, ‘Remember two words: telephoto lenses!’ ” recalls former press aide Melody Miller, adding, “He was a bachelor, though, and he was entitled to a dating life.”

Edmund Reggie, Kennedy’s friend and future father-in-law, bought a home on Nantucket in 1982. “Ted said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ ” Reggie recalls. ” ‘I’d have found you a place near us [on Cape Cod].’ But that was during Teddy’s party days, and I knew I couldn’t go a whole summer with that.”

Kennedy would bring girlfriends to Nantucket, says Reggie, but never seemed overly serious about the relationships, though many of the women did.

Shrum, another old friend, asserts he was unconcerned about Kennedy’s judgment — or health — during his second bachelorhood. “My experience was that these stories were vastly exaggerated,” contends Shrum, pointing to the heavy workload Kennedy was shouldering at the time.

Exaggerated or not, the worst blow to his image came in 1990 in a long profile in GQ magazine written by Michael Kelly. Titled “Ted Kennedy On The Rocks,” it portrayed the senator as “an aging Irish boyo clutching a bottle and diddling a blonde.”

In 1985, according to Kelly, Kennedy, and his close friend Chris Dodd, the Connecticut senator, made crude advances on a waitress after a boozy dinner at La Brasserie, a posh Washington restaurant. Two years later, Kennedy was caught having sex with a congressional lobbyist on the floor of the same restaurant. He “seems to be getting worse as he gets older,” Kelly wrote. “I wonder whether Kennedy is really enjoying this anymore.”

Many others did, too, especially following what happened in 1991 in South Florida.

A charge of rape staggers family

Stephen Smith, Kennedy’s brother-in-law, had succumbed to cancer in August 1990. Married to Jean Kennedy, Ted’s closest sibling, Smith had managed the family trusts and served as the Kennedys’ chief troubleshooter. His death had a profound impact upon the senator, yet it was hardly the only blow suffered by the Kennedys during a period when the younger generation found itself passing uneasily into adulthood.In 1983, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was arrested for heroin possession. A year later, another of RFK’s sons, David, died of a drug overdose. Ted Kennedy’s son, Patrick, went into rehab in 1986, followed, in 1991, by his brother Ted Jr. Christopher Kennedy Lawford waged his own battle with addiction, recalling in a memoir how he and his uncle, both besotted, nearly came to blows during an argument in 1982.

“Teddy had moved from the mythic to the human,” wrote Lawford, a judgment that hovered like a storm cloud over Easter Weekend 1991.

Kennedy had invited relatives and friends to the family’s Palm Beach estate for the holiday weekend. Bought by Joseph Kennedy in 1933, the six-bedroom house had fallen into a state of disrepair. Although it still loomed large in family lore, to locals it was mostly known as a Kennedy party house.

Guests that Easter included William Barry, who had served as Bobby’s bodyguard; Patrick Kennedy; and Jean Kennedy Smith and her son William, a Georgetown University medical student. According to police reports and trial testimony, a Friday dinner ended with the senator sipping Scotch and reminiscing about Steve Smith. Around 11:30, he asked Patrick and Willy Smith to go out for a drink. The three drove to Au Bar, a hip nightclub known as a pickup spot for older men seeking younger women. It was not the first time a group of Kennedy men had visited Au Bar in the wee hours.

At the club they met several locals, among them Patricia Bowman, a 29-year old single mother, and Michelle Cassone, a Palm Beach waitress. Both women made their way back to the estate around 3:30 a.m. Cassone said she and Patrick were “cuddling” in a bedroom when the senator walked in wearing only a nightshirt. Disturbed by his appearance, Cassone left the house.

Bowman and Smith walked to the beach. According to Bowman, Smith then forced himself upon her sexually. Back inside the house, he denied raping her and allegedly told Bowman that no one would believe her, anyway.

Police officers did not visit the house until Sunday, later saying they were led to believe neither the senator nor Smith was around. This was not true. What Kennedy could not avoid was the media firestorm around a juicy tale involving booze, sex, the police blotter, and America’s foremost political family.

The Kennedys launched their own investigation into Bowman. “We knew that was the way they were going to play the game,” says Ellen Roberts, a prosecutor on the case. “Patty certainly was not a bad person. But she did have a past.”

Major news organizations, including The New York Times, published Bowman’s name, igniting further controversy.

The trial was televised nationwide. Until O.J. Simpson’s, it was the most widely watched trial in American history. The prosecution called Kennedy as an adverse witness, believing it could question him more aggressively than if Kennedy were summoned by the defense. But the strategy backfired badly, according to lead defense attorney Roy Black. “They grossly underestimated Ted Kennedy’s charisma,” says Black. “As soon as he walked into that courtroom, you could tell this was going to be a disaster for the prosecution.”

Kennedy took the stand on Dec. 6, looking relaxed and confident.

No, said Kennedy, he did not hear any screams that night. Yes, he regretted not having gone for “a long walk on the beach” rather than going out drinking. Only when Bill Barry and Steve Smith were mentioned did Kennedy become visibly emotional. Smith, he said in a husky voice, “was very special to me.”

Black sensed the ballgame was over. “Suddenly it wasn’t the Kennedys out carousing that the jury saw,” he recalls, “but a sense of melancholy hanging over them.”

Willy Smith was acquitted five days later. In 1995, the Kennedys sold their Florida estate to a Manhattan bank executive.

Liberal lion of the Senate, defanged

The Palm Beach case was unresolved when Clarence Thomas was nominated to join the US Supreme Court in July 1991. Controversial from the outset, the nomination turned into something more complicated for Kennedy than a disagreeable choice for the nation’s highest court. It once again put a spotlight on the senator’s personal conduct, not solely Thomas’s fitness to serve.Picked to replace retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall, a civil-rights hero, Thomas had served as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before becoming a D.C. Court of Appeals judge less than two years earlier. His judicial temperament was jarringly at odds with Marshall’s, however, and although Thomas had issued few written opinions that could be picked apart, Kennedy saw his nomination as a ploy to fill the court’s “black seat” with a young jurist who could tilt the court rightward for decades.

Kennedy’s frustration was evident during the hearings in September, when Thomas asserted he had never discussed Roe v. Wade with colleagues. Still, without strong opposition from African-American leaders, Thomas appeared to be headed for confirmation. Then Anita Hill surfaced.

In a few tumultuous days, the focus shifted from judicial philosophy to personal conduct and veracity. And that almost guaranteed Kennedy’s name would be dragged into the same awkward conversation.

Like Thomas, Hill was an African-American and Yale Law School graduate. Having served as Thomas’s assistant at both the Department of Education and EEOC, she told investigators that Thomas had made sexually charged remarks to her on several occasions. Hearings were reopened before a Senate floor vote on Thomas could be taken.

Hill assumed others had come forward with similar stories. They did not, though, and on Oct. 11, she was grilled by committee members while millions watched her televised testimony. Hill said Thomas had described XXX-rated movies he had watched and bragged about his own sexual exploits. Thomas angrily challenged Hill’s account, calling the hearings “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.”

Kennedy said little while Republicans Arlen Specter and Orrin Hatch went after Hill. At times, Kennedy appeared embarrassed by her graphic testimony. Only on day three did he protest the treatment of Hill.

“The issue isn’t about discrimination and racism,” Kennedy said. “It is about sexual harassment.” He went on, “Are we an old boys’ club, insensitive at best — and perhaps something worse? Will we strain to concoct any excuse? To impose any burden? To tolerate any insubstantial attack on a woman in order to rationalize a vote for this nomination?”

After Thomas was confirmed, by a 52-48 vote, Kennedy was assailed for having said too little, too late.

“It was obvious he’d been defanged,” says Faye Wattleton, the former Planned Parenthood director. “His personal life mitigated the kind of blazing attack he’d become known for.” Looking back, Hill believes a more spirited defense by Kennedy might have hurt more than helped.

“Because of the situation he was in, I could see people possibly discrediting both of us,” reflects Hill, now a Brandeis University professor. More significant to Hill was the disconnect between what lawmakers such as Kennedy stood for publicly and their private conduct.

Committee members on both sides, she says, “underestimated the political impact of the [sexual harassment] issue. I don’t think they understood either that on a personal level, the harassment they saw every day amounted to an inequality problem.”

If there’s one lesson to be drawn, she adds, it’s that the fight for equality must be internalized in people’s day-to-day lives. In that sense, she says, Kennedy was “no different from anyone else.”

From anniversary to wedding

The year of 1991 transformed Kennedy’s life, thanks in part to a June party celebrating Edmund and Doris Reggie’s 40th wedding anniversary.The Reggies were old, cherished friends who had supported Kennedy during bad times and good. A retired Louisiana judge and banker, Edmund had Kennedy ties dating to 1956, when he had marshaled Louisiana Democrats to support Jack’s vice-presidential bid. He had gone on to manage presidential campaigns in ’60 (for Jack), ’68 (Bobby), and ’80 (Ted) in Louisiana. Doris was a feisty party chairwoman who, resisting a push to have Jimmy Carter nominated unanimously, had cast the only Louisiana floor vote for Ted Kennedy at the ’80 Democratic Convention.

In a political world where alliances ebbed and flowed, the Kennedys had no more loyal allies than the Reggies of Crowley, La.

If the bond between the two families was built on politics, though, it had grown over the years into something deeper. The Reggies were Lebanese-Americans with Deep South roots. The Kennedys were Irish-Catholic Northeasterners. Their superficial differences notwithstanding, the Reggies and their six children had more than a little Kennedy in them. Edmund was an unabashed liberal from the heart of Dixie, an immigrants’ son living the American Dream. “Last one in the pool is a Republican!” the judge was known to bellow at his kids. He and the senator — gregarious men with robust senses of humor — loved each other’s company.

After Bobby died, says Edmund Reggie, “I considered Ted my best friend.”

The party took place at the Washington home of Vicki Reggie, 37, the couple’s second-oldest child. Two decades younger than Kennedy, she came from a different generation, a different place in life. Although she had interned one summer in Kennedy’s Washington office, the two barely knew each other, having shared only a brief conversation and photo-op. After law school, Reggie had married telecommunications lawyer Greg Raclin, moved to D.C. to practice banking and bankruptcy law, and started a family.

Divorced in 1990, Vicki Reggie was no fixture on the Beltway social circuit. Juggling single motherhood and a demanding career precluded having much of a dating life. She had also been named a partner at her firm, combining what colleagues say was an ability to master complex financial transactions with a high degree of emotional intelligence.

“Vicki was a real star,” says Steven Engelberg, who ran the law office where Reggie worked. “Not only was she a great lawyer, she had tremendous political skills and a great sense of humor.”

Kennedy quickly realized many of the qualities that made her an outstanding lawyer — sharp elbows combined with an even sharper wit — when he rang the doorbell for the anniversary party. “What’s the matter,” she said, smiling at the senator, “you couldn’t get a date?” He followed her into the kitchen while she made dinner and asked her out a few days later. More social than romantic at first, their meetings gradually deepened into a mutual affection that took both of them by surprise.

What made Vicki different from the scores of other “dates” Kennedy had pursued? She was youthful and attractive: 5-feet-8 with hazel eyes and a sophisticated air. Intelligent, politically savvy, a lover of opera and pro football, an accomplished cook. More significantly, perhaps, she was raising two children, aged 5 and 8, who were central to her life. For all his middle-aged roistering, Kennedy loved children and never seemed happier than when surrounded by them.

“His life was going in a very different direction when they met, then it all came together afterward,” says Heather Campion, a longtime Kennedy friend. “Vicki made Ted Kennedy much more accessible to us than he’d been before. None of us had ever seen or known him that way, as a family man, a romantic man.”

Unlike Joan and other wives of Kennedy men, Vicki shared his political interests, enabling her to serve as partner — and troubleshooter — in all aspects of his life

After they had been dating for a few weeks, the senator was stuck on Capitol Hill and could not make it to her house for dinner, where he would often help with the children’s homework and read them bedtime stories. At that moment, she later said, “I started to realize more and more that this man was very important in my life.”

To Pamela Covington, a close friend of Reggie’s, the affection between Ted and Vicki was “obvious right away.” Well aware of the senator’s past reputation, Covington says, she was unconcerned that Vicki would go the way of other Kennedy girlfriends. “For all her sense of humor, Vicki can take care of herself,” says Covington. “I knew that whatever decision she made would be the right decision.”

Edmund Reggie, who had seen plenty of what he calls Kennedy’s “wild side,” was similarly unconcerned. “There was no romance before Vicki, none,” he asserts. “I knew how strong his religious faith was. And I knew in the end that was going to prevail.”

After they had married, Vicki was asked whether Kennedy’s reputation for womanizing had given her pause.

“I know him,” she said. “I know the tremendous respect he has for me, and for his daughters, and for his mother. I think that says it all.”

Edmund and Doris Reggie were on Nantucket that December when the senator sailed over to ask their permission for him to marry their daughter. They happily said yes. In January, the senator formally proposed at a performance of “La Boheme,” Vicki’s favorite opera. They married in a civil ceremony that July at Kennedy’s house in Virginia. The news stunned many who had taken Kennedy at his word that he would never marry again, raising suspicions that he was only doing so for political reasons.

“Let me put it this way,” says Edmund Reggie. “We all know people who fall in love, marry, and a few years later become two different people. After 16 years of marriage, Ted and Vicki are closer and more romantic than they were after five years. It’s impressive.”

Resolute, Kennedy faces Romney

With his personal life stabilized, Kennedy still had work to do to restore his political life.The summer of 1994 was winding down when David Burke asked whether he could help with the senator’s reelection campaign. To Burke, an old Kennedy hand who had run CBS News, it was unimaginable the senator would have trouble winning in Massachusetts. Since his first Senate race, Kennedy had captured at least 60 percent of the vote. He had raised $3.6 million for this campaign and had steered hundreds of millions of federal dollars toward the Bay State.

It was a great record, Burke thought. Unfortunately, the poll numbers and news columns told a different story.

Kennedy’s early 20-point lead had shrunk to practically zero. The 25th anniversary of Chappaquiddick had been widely noted. Joan Kennedy was seeking a new divorce settlement. Old demons were proving hard to escape.

Moreover, Kennedy, 62, had never faced as well funded and telegenic an opponent as 47-year-old businessman Mitt Romney, a wealthy, Harvard-educated venture capitalist. Now, with Republicans across the country poised to blow away the Democrats, Kennedy particularly resented Romney’s implying that the senator’s time had passed. Recalls one campaign staffer, “He was offended that someone like that could come along and take his Senate seat by buying it.”

Kennedy asked Burke to ride around the state in his campaign car. “What he really needed,” Burke recalls, “was an older hand like me to talk to.”

In fact, a platoon of old hands was being summoned back to shore up the campaign. Bob Shrum was aboard, writing speeches and advising on media strategy. John Sasso and Paul Kirk had enlisted, too. Tom Kiley and Jack Corrigan were running polling and research, Rick Gureghian the press office. Ranny Cooper arrived shortly after Burke. Michael Kennedy, the senator’s nephew, held the campaign manager’s title. Charles Baker beefed up field operations that had languished since Kennedy’s ’88 race. Joined by Vicki and Edmund Reggie, all were veterans of presidential-level campaigns.

Money was a major concern. Romney had pledged to spend as much as $8 million on the race. Kennedy’s staff had drawn up two budgets, one if they held a comfortable lead, the other if the race was close. Plan B was now operative. With expenditures eventually topping $10 million, the plan provided for a series of negative ads targeting his opponent, a tactic Kennedy had never used before. The senator took out a second mortgage on his McLean mansion to help pay the bills.

Romney’s strategy: sell himself as a job-creating executive and Washington outsider, a family-values Mormon with moderate views on social issues such as gay rights and abortion. Kennedy, by contrast, was old, out of touch, soft on crime, and beholden to special interests. Only the senator’s personal life was off-limits, Romney told his staff.

“People in Massachusetts knew that stuff already,” recalls campaign aide Charles Manning. “And the national audience didn’t vote here anyway.”

Kennedy’s challenge? Reintroduce himself to voters and grass-roots party organizers, reenergize his core constituencies such as organized labor, and reeducate himself on a state economy in rapid transition. That, and teach Romney a lesson in hardball politics, if necessary.

“He may have been right out of central casting, but Romney had a glass jaw,” says Burke.

A Sept. 18 staff meeting set the tone. With Kiley’s latest poll showing Kennedy a point behind, the mood was one of “looking into the abyss,” as several attendees put it. Shrum, backed by Vicki, recommended going harder after Romney. Staffers had learned that Bain Capital, Romney’s firm, had bought an Indiana paper plant, SCM, which had then laid off workers, precipitating a bitter strike. An aide was dispatched to interview disgruntled employees. Ads built around those interviews sharply undercut Romney’s image as a job-creating chief executive.

“I would like to say to Mitt Romney: If you think you’d make such a good senator, come out here to Marion, Indiana, and see what your company has done to these people,” challenged one out-of-work packer. When a “truth squad” of six striking workers journeyed east to confront Romney, he refused to meet with them for three days, keeping the story unnecessarily alive. Kennedy took full advantage, pressing his case with blue-collar voters across the state.

“Labor hated Romney, yes. But they also loved Ted,” notes Baker. “I remember the AFL-CIO national political director saying, ‘Look, just tell me what you need, and we’ll do it.’ ”

The race shifted into high gear. Romney ran ads highlighting his all-American family. Kennedy touted all he had done for Massachusetts, his arm draped affectionately around Vicki.

A large and noisy crowd filled Faneuil Hall for their first debate. Three million Massachusetts voters tuned in as Kennedy walked onstage to a thunderous ovation.

Heavy on his feet but brimming with confidence, he hit Romney hard on abortion rights (“You’re not prochoice, but multiple choice”) and healthcare. When Romney went after Kennedy for attacking his business record, Kennedy delivered a line he had rehearsed with Shrum about Romney’s questioning of a Kennedy family business deal. “Mr. Romney,” he said, “the Kennedys are not in public service to make money. We have paid too high a price.”

The crowd, and most pundits, judged Kennedy the clear winner. Massachusetts voters concurred, reelecting the senator by an 18-point margin in a year when the Democrats lost eight Senate seats to the GOP.

Savoring the victory with an ebullient Vicki by his side, Ted Kennedy had faced his harshest critics, his most formidable opponent, and a host of old demons — and prevailed.


Conflicted ambitions, then, Chappaquiddick


Kennedy appeared White House bound, until a fatal car accident and lingering questions derailed his plans



On a humid Friday in July of 1969, as his plane took off from Boston bound for Martha’s Vineyard, Senator Edward M. Kennedy seemed locked in a sure, unstoppable ascent to the White House.

It had been just a year since Bobby Kennedy was killed, gunned down by an assassin 80 days into his hope-flooded run for the presidency, a year since the youngest Kennedy had stood up in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and delivered his brother’s eulogy.

Now Ted had replaced his brother in the spotlight. Just 37 years old, he had faced months of unrelenting speculation about his presidential aspirations. Polls showed 79 percent of voters thought he would be the Democratic nominee for president in 1972. President Richard Nixon was fixated on him as a threat, counting his TV airtime and assigning political operatives to track his every move.

“There was all this rising, boiling feeling about this meteor getting ready to take off,” recalls Robert Bates, a former Kennedy aide. “Everybody wanted to be connected with Ted.”

It seemed sometimes as if there was no escape. At a raucous St. Patrick’s Day party that spring, Congressmen Tip O’Neill and Ed Boland serenaded Kennedy with an old JFK campaign song. “It’s Kennedy,” they belted out as other party guests joined in. Kennedy looked embarrassed and swiftly retreated to the bar to get a drink.

The senator spoke little of the pressure. But it was clear he was conflicted.

At times he tried recklessly to slip his burdens. His heavy drinking on a flight back to Washington from Alaska, where he had gone for hearings on Eskimo education, became legend among reporters who were present.

But he had also taken on more responsibility in the Senate, winning the role of majority whip in a step considered a boost to his resume for the White House.

Some friends saw him steeling himself to his duty. “I thought he was willing himself to go through everything he had to go through, to do what had to be done, because he was the last surviving son,” says Charles Tretter, a former aide.

At home, Kennedy’s three children were frightened by the talk of his running for president. So were the 13 fatherless nieces and nephews who needed his guidance, and his fragile, beautiful wife.

So on this midsummer weekend as his plane approached the Vineyard, Kennedy looked forward to time on the ocean, where he had always sought refuge from inner conflicts. He was going to sail in the annual Edgartown regatta, a family tradition, and to attend a party that night for a group of young women who had worked on Robert Kennedy’s campaign for president.

His longtime chauffeur Jack Crimmins had brought Kennedy’s car, a black Oldsmobile, to the Vineyard on the ferry. He had also brought a supply of liquor for the weekend: vodka, Scotch, rum, a couple of cases of beer.

Now, after a stop for fried clams, the two men headed for Chappaquiddick, a smaller, sparsely populated island separated from Edgartown by a narrow inlet. They made the quick crossing on a simple, barge-like ferry and continued on their way, through a landscape of sandy marsh and dense scrub pine and oak.

Kennedy wanted a swim before his race. He changed clothes at the gray-shingled cottage where the party would be held that night. Then Crimmins drove him to East Beach: a half mile back toward the ferry, slowing at the sharp, L-shaped curve, then a deliberate right turn onto sandy Dike Road.

A mile down the dirt road, the woods fell away, and the narrow, wooden Dike Bridge came into view.

Crimmins steered carefully across the one-lane span, above the swirling tidal flow of an inlet known as Poucha Pond. At the beach, he waited in the torpid afternoon as Kennedy dove below the crashing surf.

A Camelot-style gathering

The party had been planned by Joseph Gargan, the son of Rose Kennedy’s sister. Gargan had rented the cottage for his family vacation, but when his mother-in-law fell ill, it became the cookout venue.

It was not the first reunion of Robert Kennedy’s staffers.

The six young women who gathered that weekend on the Vineyard — sisters Nance and Maryellen Lyons, Rosemary “Cricket” Keough, Mary Jo Kopechne, Esther Newberg, and Susan Tannenbaum — had come together several times already to reminisce about their days in the campaign’s “boiler room.” The Kennedys had hosted one such affair at Hyannis Port the previous summer.

“It was almost like war veterans getting together,” says one family friend.

The women had worked in the buzzing nerve center of the campaign, housed in a windowless room for secrecy. Each was responsible for courting and tracking delegates in several states.

Mary Jo Kopechne had known Robert Kennedy well, once staying up all night at his Virginia home to type a landmark speech on Vietnam. After he was killed, Kopechne told a former teacher she felt unable to return to Capitol Hill “because it will never be the same again.”

She took a job with a Washington consulting firm after his death.

“Politics was her life,” her father, Joseph, would tell reporters.

Being with friends who felt the same way was comforting, and the “boiler room girls” began their Vineyard weekend in good spirits. Friday morning, they swam at a beach on Chappaquiddick. Then they took a chartered boat to watch the sailing races.

Back at the cottage after the regatta, Kennedy soaked in the bathtub to sooth his aching back while Gargan baked frozen hors d’oeuvres and fired up the grill in the fading light outside.

The mood was easygoing. Kennedy asked Crimmins to mix him a rum and Coke and teased his chauffeur about the level in the bottle, jokingly demanding, “Who’s been drinking all the rum?”

Tretter, who was also along for the party, headed back to town to buy ice and cigarettes. Another guest was Paul Markham, a former US attorney and Kennedy friend. Gargan’s gofer, Ray LaRosa, picked up the young women at their Edgartown hotel.

It was, on the surface, a Camelot-style gathering, of older married men and younger, unmarried women — but in an oddly modest, remote setting, with women who were unusually skilled and ambitious.

Guests drifted from the cramped cottage to the mosquito-ridden front yard. Stories were told; Bobby Kennedy was a presence. Some people danced. Everyone present would later insist that the drinking was moderate. Analysis of Kopechne’s blood would show her alcohol level was .09 percent — perhaps the equivalent of three to five drinks.

According to Crimmins, it was 11:15 p.m. when Kennedy asked for the car keys. The senator said he was tired and wanted to return to his hotel on the last ferry. He said he would drive Kopechne back to Edgartown, too, because she’d had too much sun and wasn’t feeling well.

His request was unusual. The senator rarely drove himself anywhere, in Washington or Massachusetts. And his departure left behind one car for 10 people, most of them planning to return that night to rooms in Edgartown.

But the pair’s departure caused hardly a ripple. Kopechne told no one she was ill, or that she was leaving, her friends said. She left behind her purse and the key to her hotel room.

They headed for the L-shaped intersection, where the paved road curved left toward the ferry and the hard-to-see right turn led to the bridge.

Kennedy’s story has not changed in 40 years: He was confused. He thought the ferry was the other way. He turned right.

There were no lights or signs to alert a nighttime driver to the bridge, which was at an odd angle to the road. By the time Kennedy knew what was happening, it was too late. The front tires of the Oldsmobile lifted up, over the stacked planks that were the only barrier on the right edge of the bridge.

The black sedan was in flight. It hit the water and sank, settling upside down in the pond.

The next thing Kennedy knew was that he was going to die.

“There was complete blackness,” he said later, according to a court transcript. “Water seemed to rush in from every point, from the windshield, from underneath me, above me.”

Conscious of Kopechne struggling beside him, he lifted the driver’s door handle and pressed. Nothing happened.

He drew what he believed was his last breath.

And then, somehow, he escaped, “pushing, pressing, and coming up to the surface” with “no idea in the world how I got out of that car.”

He would recall being swept away by the tide, calling out Kopechne’s name as he drifted. He said he recovered his footing and waded back to the car through waist-deep water, guided by the glow of the headlights underwater.

He dove below the surface, trying to get to Kopechne. He failed, and tried again, seven or eight times in all. By then he was exhausted, barely able to hold his breath.

Finally, he let himself float away. He crawled onto shore and lay there, coughing and gasping. Then he staggered up the bank and started back up Dike Road, “walking, trotting, jogging, stumbling, as fast as I possibly could.”

Disturbing sequence of decisions

It would have been a dark walk, dogged by panic and slowed by powdery sand. There was a crescent moon, but trees cocooned the road. He passed houses but did not stop for help, later saying that he saw no lights.

Back at the cottage, spent and soaking wet, Kennedy collapsed in the car parked outside. Then he called Gargan and Markham, both lawyers, to help him.

There was no phone in the cottage, but there were houses nearby and a volunteer fire station with an alarm. The three men never paused, though, as they raced to the pond.

Later, in court, Gargan tried to explain why.

“I felt there was only one thing to do and that was to get into the car and as quickly as possible, because I knew if I did not there wasn’t a chance in the world of saving Mary Jo,” he said.

At the bridge, Gargan and Markham said, they stripped off their clothes and dove in, but the current kept them from Kopechne. “When we failed in that . . . I didn’t think that there was anything more that could be done,” Gargan said.

As they headed back up Dike Road — passing the same houses but again not stopping — Kennedy broke down, according to his friends.

“He was sobbing,” Markham said. “He said, ‘This couldn’t have happened.’ ”

Kennedy’s future loomed, suddenly uncertain. “What am I going to do, what can I do?” Kennedy asked.

It had been two hours since the accident. Gargan drove to the ferry landing — steps from a working payphone. The night was still, the narrow inlet calm as glass.

All kinds of theories would surface about what the men said then: that Kennedy wanted to tell the police that Kopechne was driving; that he asked his cousin Joe to take the rap.

Kennedy denied every story. But later, in his testimony, he acknowledged the powerful, dreamlike longing that came over him that night, the “wish and desire and the hope that suddenly this whole accident would disappear.”

He thought about the phone calls he would have to make, to Mary Jo’s mother, to his own parents. And somewhere in the man who had already borne so much, the will to do the right thing bent and buckled.

Maybe, he thought, Kopechne had escaped. Maybe she was back at the cottage. Meanwhile, Gargan and Markham were insisting he report the accident.

When the senator stood and gave his orders, they were simple and direct: “You take care of the girls; I will take care of the accident.”

But Kennedy went back to his room. He did not go to police.

In the morning, he confessed to his friends that he “couldn’t gain . . . the moral strength to call Mrs. Kopechne at 2 in the morning and tell her that her daughter was dead.” He said he’d hoped the rising sun would erase the night’s events.

But it was no bad dream, the mess he’d left on Chappaquiddick.

Kennedy says: ‘I was the driver’

On Saturday morning, the cleanup began.

Kennedy began making phone calls to lawyers. Two fishermen, meanwhile, had spotted the car in the pond.

By the time the senator made it to the police station, about 10 a.m., Kopechne’s body had already been recovered.

Edgartown Police Chief Dominick Arena returned from the bridge to his office to find Kennedy there making phone calls.

“I was the driver,” Kennedy said.

“What would you like for me to do?” the senator asked then. “We must do what is right or we will both be criticized for it.”

Arena asked for a statement. Kennedy complied, writing 230 words with Markham’s help. He did not mention the party or Gargan’s and Markham’s rescue attempts. He left out Kopechne’s last name because he could not spell it. And he brushed aside the 10-hour delay in reporting the crash.

“When I fully realized what had happened this morning,” he wrote, “I immediately contacted the police.”

In spite of the gaps, Arena asked no questions. It was too late to determine how much Kennedy had been drinking. By midday, Kennedy was on his way to the airport.

His advisers were assembling in Hyannis Port. They included lawyers, speechwriters, strategists, and friends: Richard Goodwin and Ted Sorensen; Milton Gwirtzman, David Burke and Burke Marshall; brother-in-law Stephen Smith; congressmen John Culver and John Tunney.

K. Dun Gifford, a former Robert Kennedy aide who had overseen the campaign “boiler room,” was sent to escort Kopechne’s body to Pennsylvania. He denies the allegation, made repeatedly over the years, that he rushed the body off the island to avoid an autopsy.

But he says he understood at once that the world had changed.

“You just knew it would never be the same again,” he says. “It didn’t mean he couldn’t have a life in public service, but it wouldn’t be a charmed life. It was going to be different.”

A hunt for truth, a silent senator

Back at the Kennedy compound, his advisers found the senator emotional and vague. A family doctor diagnosed a concussion.

The press had descended and soon unearthed news of the party, but by then the guests had left the island.

More confounding, a sheriff’s deputy named Huck Look had contradicted Kennedy. Coming home that night through the Dike Road intersection, Look said, he had seen a car like Kennedy’s, with a man and woman inside and a similar plate number, at 12:45 a.m. – an hour and a half after Kennedy said the accident happened and 45 minutes after the last scheduled ferry.

The medical examiner declared Kopechne’s cause of death was drowning and saw no need for an autopsy. The district attorney kept his distance. The police chief prepared the only charge he believed he could make: leaving the scene of an accident, a misdemeanor punishable by two months in prison.

The nation was demanding answers from Kennedy. But the senator was in crisis, seriously weighing the wisdom of leaving the Senate.

Outside the compound walls, the rhetoric was brutal. A Newsweek cover story claimed Kennedy’s friends had recently been “powerfully concerned with his indulgent drinking habits, his daredevil driving, and his ever-ready eye for a pretty face.”

Frank Mankiewicz, former press secretary for Robert Kennedy, says he became increasingly impatient as he consulted by phone with the team in Hyannis Port.

“My advice in all situations is to tell the truth, tell it all, and tell it now, and as it dragged on, I was troubled by it,” he recalls. “I said, ‘Jesus, why don’t they say something?’ ”

Nantucket Sound was choppy and shrouded in fog Friday morning as Kennedy sailed to his court hearing on the Vineyard. In the century-old courtroom, he sat with his head down while Joan listened from the wooden jury box.

He quietly entered his plea. The clerk asked him to repeat it.

“Guilty,” he said in a louder voice. The packed courtroom stirred.

His lawyer asked that his sentence be suspended. Judge James Boyle consented.

“It is my understanding that he has already been, and will continue to be, punished far beyond anything this court can impose,” said Boyle.

The hearing lasted less than 10 minutes. Afterward, the police chief told reporters his investigation was closed.

Kennedy flew back to the Cape to prepare for an even more public reckoning. That night, he would appear on national television to explain the events on Chappaquiddick.

Believing Massachusetts voters would urge Kennedy to stay, Milton Gwirtzman had suggested asking them for guidance. Gwirtzman says he assumed their reaction would be shaped by their long history with the Kennedy family — by their grief at the loss of the senator’s brothers and by “what he meant to Catholics as the last surviving son.

Kennedy spoke for 13 minutes. He described the cookout “for a devoted group of Kennedy campaign secretaries” and denied the rumors of “immoral conduct” between himself and Kopechne. He also denied driving drunk.

He acknowledged his failure to report the accident promptly and described the “irrational” thoughts that consumed him that night, such as wondering “whether some awful curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys.” But he insisted he did not seek to escape responsibility by blaming physical or emotional trauma.

“I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the police immediately,” he said.

Finally, he asked the voters what he should do next.

Within hours, it was clear that Gwirtzman’s gamble had paid off.

Phone calls to the Globe were two-to-one in Kennedy’s favor. Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine voiced his faith in the senator’s “straightforward story.” Even Gwen Kopechne, Mary Jo’s mother, said she hoped he would stay in the Senate.

Western Union delivered more than 10,000 telegrams to the compound. An aide said they backed Kennedy by a 100-to-1 ratio.

By Tuesday, his staff confirmed he would stay on in the Senate.

But if Massachusetts had accepted his transgression, he faced a tougher crowd in Washington and around the country.

A national Gallup poll conducted after his speech found a sharp drop in the number of people with “extremely favorable” attitudes toward him.

“Pro-Kennedy Democrats who had optimistically suspended judgment before Kennedy’s Friday night television appearance are now deeply saddened and deeply critical,” Robert Novak and Rowland Evans wrote in the Washington Post.

As long as he failed to answer the lingering questions, they wrote, Kennedy’s political future would be clouded.

 And it was.

Island inquest, then reelection

On July 31, Kennedy returned to the Senate, his every step scrutinized by a sea of reporters. On the Senate floor, majority leader Mike Mansfield pulled him close.

“Come in, Ted,” said Mansfield. “You’re right back where you belong.”

The scene was one of a return to normalcy. But Chappaquiddick had changed everything.

The accident remained a front-page story. The district attorney for Martha’s Vineyard was now seeking an inquest into Kopechne’s death and asking Pennsylvania authorities to exhume her body for an autopsy.

The tragedy had shaken the Kennedy family. In August, Joan Kennedy suffered her fourth miscarriage. She blamed the loss in part on Chappaquiddick. Because of her previous miscarriages, her doctor had advised her to stay in bed. But when her husband asked her to go with him to Kopechne’s funeral in Pennsylvania, she felt obliged to play the part of the dutiful wife.

“So I stood next to Ted,” she recalls, adding, painfully, “I felt like it was choosing politics over our baby.”

The senator suffered another loss that November, when his father slipped into a coma and died, as he and his sisters prayed at the bedside.

In January, the Chappaquiddick inquest was held on Martha’s Vineyard. Kennedy’s lawyers had prevailed, and the four days of testimony were closed to the public and press, the transcript locked away until a later date.

That spring, Kennedy campaigned for the Senate as the final legal chapters in the Chappaquiddick saga played out.

A grand jury on Martha’s Vineyard opened its investigation of the accident in April and closed it two days later, issuing no indictment.

Within days of its decision, Judge Boyle released the 764-page inquest transcript — including his own stunning conclusion that Kennedy’s negligence had contributed to Kopechne’s death.

Based on testimony at the inquest, Boyle concluded that Kennedy had lied; he “did not intend to drive to the ferry slip and his turn onto Dike Road was intentional.”

Furthermore, the judge wrote, because the bridge was a hazard to be crossed with caution, Kennedy “would at least be negligent and, possibly, reckless” when he approached it, as he testified, at 20 miles per hour.

But under the odd, archaic rules of the inquest, Judge Boyle was not required to act on his findings, released just days before he retired. The district attorney made no move to action either.

Kennedy condemned the report as “not justified.”

The Massachusetts voters were untroubled. They reelected him a few months later over his poorly funded Republican rival, Josiah Spaulding, by almost 500,000 votes.

As hopes fade, work looms

The senator had weathered his disgrace. But the presidency, once so tantalizingly close, now seemed impossibly distant. Kennedy sought to anchor himself in the Senate.

He suffered a loss of standing in 1971, when his colleagues chose Senator Robert Byrd to replace him as whip. Kennedy was bitter, but later saw his loss as a lucky break that led him to embrace committee work.

He took charge of the Senate’s subcommittee on health and fought hard to increase cancer research funding. Stepping up his interest in foreign affairs, he advocated against incendiary weapons and for the protection of civilians, and successfully pushed for the creation of a United Nations relief force to respond to human and natural disasters.

Kennedy was also working for the poor at home, helping to establish programs to feed the elderly and poor women and children and introducing legislation that improved schools on Indian reservations.

Battling for the least powerful, the senator may have felt energized by a return to the simple lessons of his childhood, “the sense that to whom much is given, much is expected,” says Paul Kirk, his longtime friend and colleague.

He was in a comfortable, familiar place, where he could immerse himself with little fear of failing.

“He just went about his business, and didn’t let it overcome him, and I began to see a change in him,” recalls Edward Brooke, Kennedy’s Republican colleague from Massachusetts, who was not particularly close to him. “I saw a very serious young man, a man who had been hurt and who was sorry, and I saw him rise above it and go on with his life. You had to respect that — he was standing up like a man.”

Kennedy had made it clear after Chappaquiddick that he would not run for president in 1972.

By 1971, that pledge seemed long forgotten.

Almost anything he did was seen as proof that he would run: A cross-country trip to survey the state of healthcare; a speech that recalled his brother’s presidency and said it was “time to rekindle that spirit.”

“Short of self immolation, nothing he can say will convince me he is not a candidate,” wrote the editor of the Republican National Committee publication Monday.

Kennedy had acknowledged in a New York Times interview in May that he would like to be president one day. “That’s where the power is,” he said.

But the timing “feels wrong in my gut,” he explained. What he needed was “breathing time,” to gain experience and care for his family.

Meanwhile, his Senate work was satisfying. He freely criticized the war in Vietnam, while President Nixon, fearing his potential candidacy, lashed back sharply.

Senator George McGovern, the Democratic candidate for president, tried to recruit Kennedy as his running mate. Mankiewicz, who was then McGovern’s press secretary, says that Chappaquiddick loomed large, but Kennedy’s resurgent popularity seemed larger.

Kennedy resisted, and McGovern eventually chose his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver instead.

“Unlike either of his brothers, [Kennedy] loved the Senate and took to it like a duck to water,” says Mankiewicz. “By ’72 and ’76, he had an alternate route.”

A devastating prognosis, a descent

In 1973, after Nixon’s reelection, Kennedy was again distracted by personal matters.

His oldest son, Edward Jr., also known as Teddy, was 12 years old, a tow-headed boy with a mischievous streak and an ingrained concern for others.

But as the 10th anniversary of Jack’s assassination approached, the senator got devastating news.

A bruise on the boy’s right leg, X-rayed at the urging of his worried governess, was found to be cancer, and doctors believed it had spread. The leg would have to be amputated.

The senator “was as devastated as any parent would be,” recalls his longtime aide Melody Miller.

Kennedy told his son the bad news the day before the surgery. Both of them wept.

The next morning, Ted and Joan escorted their son to the operating room at Georgetown University Hospital. Then the senator rushed to Holy Trinity Church to walk his niece Kathleen down the aisle at her wedding to David Townsend.

Teddy’s cancer turned out to be a rare type, chondrosarcoma, which attacks cartilage. Slower to spread than bone cancer, it is also less lethal.

But a recurrence could not be ruled out, and the family decided on aggressive treatment. Teddy would be injected with massive doses of an anti-cancer drug, and an antidote to offset the harmful effects, every three or four weeks for two years.

“They couldn’t give Ted and me a good prognosis, or a prognosis at all,” says Joan Kennedy, “because they just didn’t know.”

Undone by the uncertainty, she drank more. In June, she was hospitalized for “emotional strain.” In September, she checked into a clinic in California.

Ted called in a priest to counsel Joan, a family friend says. When the couple had an evening event to attend, he called home often during the day to assess his wife’s condition.

“You never heard an unkind word about Joan,” according to the friend. “It was just matter of fact — ‘She can’t make it.’ ”

His troubles at home did not keep Kennedy from his work. Teddy’s cancer had helped him understand other families’ struggles, and he redoubled his push for national healthcare.

Stepping up his engagement in foreign affairs, he led a Senate fight to block further funding of the war in Vietnam, and he traveled to the Soviet Union, where he met with Leonid Brezhnev, the Communist leader, and proposed a ban on all nuclear tests.

If you were president now, Brezhnev told him, we would sign an agreement.

Back in the United States, however, amid the latest preelection clamor, Kennedy’s gut again told him the timing was wrong.

He could not be sure his older son was free of cancer. His younger son, Patrick, suffered severe asthma attacks. Kara, Ted Jr., and Patrick fretted about their father’s safety. His wife was troubled, in and out of institutions.

And Chappaquiddick was back in the headlines. Several news organizations, believing Kennedy would soon be running for president, had launched new investigations of the accident. The Boston Globe was deep into its reassessment. A story in The New York Times Magazine highlighted discrepancies in the purported timeline of events.

At the end of September 1974, Kennedy, now 42, returned to Boston to announce his “firm, final and unconditional” decision not to run for president in 1976.

“Clearly he knew that if he ran, Chappaquiddick would be an issue, but I believe it was much more his obligations, his worries about his own children, having watched what their cousins went through,” Kirk says. “It’s so searing, parental love and fear.”

In interviews after his announcement, friends and fellow Democrats voiced certainty that Kennedy would one day run. His family would gain stability; his influence would grow. The Chappaquiddick echoes would wane.

But more than one friend privately acknowledged another possibility: that Kennedy, deep down, did not really want the job, even if he felt it was his duty to run.

“I don’t think the fire was in the gut,” says one. “I don’t think he needed to be president.”


Full article and photo:

A childhood of privilege, promise, and pain


The youngest Kennedy had charm aplenty, and gargantuan shoes to fill


A Kennedy family portrait taken in Bronxville, NY. Seated (left to right): Eunice, Jean, Edward, Joseph Sr., Patricia, and Kathleen. Standing: Rosemary, Robert, John, Rose, and Joseph Jr.


On a spring day nearly two years ago, Senator Edward Kennedy sat on the porch of his sprawling Hyannis Port home with a friend of five decades, Edmund Reggie, who is also his father-in-law. The two men gazed out at the ocean that has been such an anchor in Kennedy’s life and talked about the future.

“You’re nuts to beat yourself to death like this on the Senate floor,” Reggie said. “Passing a new law won’t be any more glorious for you than the reputation you’ve made. Some people say you and Daniel Webster are the greatest senators of all time.”

Kennedy looked at the older man and deadpanned: “What did Webster do?”

It was a telling line, typical of the competitive Kennedys. But Reggie persisted. Waving an arm toward Nantucket Sound, he said: “You have all this. You and Vicki love to travel. Why are you beating your brains out? You’ve got all the money you need. Your kids are all raised.”

But Kennedy wasn’t buying it. “No,” he said. “I don’t think so. I’ll stay in the Senate.”

For the past 46 years, the US Senate has been as much a home to Edward Moore Kennedy as his beloved Hyannis Port. Still, that Kennedy could go down in history with the likes of Daniel Webster — the giant of the Senate in the first half of the 19th century — would have been inconceivable at many points in his career, as he weathered crises both personal and professional, tragic and scandalous.

There were the gargantuan shoes to fill, and for so long Kennedy seemed unable to fill them. His father’s outsize expectations passed from son to son, until, through the shattering deaths of the three older boys, they came to rest upon Teddy’s shoulders.

The youngest of nine, the fourth of four boys, he has spent his life trying to both escape and embrace the burdens placed upon him by ambitious parents, the long shadows cast by his brothers and a public hungry for a return to Camelot.

At his worst, he was considered a shallow playboy relying on the Kennedy name,a green understudy for his spectral brothers. His legendary personal problems were so public that they were reduced to shorthand: Chappaquiddick, Georgetown, Palm Beach. Each episode revealed a reckless and arrogant streak that would have sunk many careers. Politically, opponents painted him as no more than a poster boy for outdated leftist causes, the last of the liberal lions in a conservative age.

But over time, Kennedy’s energy and endurance emerged. The youngest son who had faced so much pain became, in his later years, a symbol of patriarchal strength in the Kennedy family and to others who suffered losses around the country. Senate colleagues who had long admired his work ethic began to see in the bipartisan coalitions he built to advance his health and education agenda the skill of a true master of legislative politics.

No senator in history, many now say, was able to be both his party’s most forceful spokesman for its causes and the leader who cajoled colleagues of both parties into agreement.

In what once seemed like a premonition, President John F. Kennedy at his inauguration had given his youngest brother a silver cigarette box engraved with the biblical words from Matthew: “And the last shall be first.”

Ted Kennedy did not succeed in following his brother’s path, either in cultivating a faultless image or in wielding the powers of the presidency. But by the early 21st century, the achievements of the younger brother would be enough to rival those of many presidents.

That day on the Hyannis Port porch, his father-in-law’s advice to relax and bask in his hard-won glory was also prescient. A year later, Kennedy would be diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

But then, as always in his turbulent life, Kennedy looked to his moorings: the Senate and the sea. He would meet cancer the way he met so many challenges.

He would keep working, and he would keep sailing.

Charming and challenging

Joseph P. Kennedy — the architect of the fledgling family dynasty — could not have planned it better himself. On Feb. 22, 1932, the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birthday, his and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy’s ninth child, Edward Moore Kennedy, was born at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Dorchester. Whether or not he took it as an omen, the proud father, who already envisioned a Kennedy becoming the first Catholic president, often pointed out the felicitous date to others.

Joe and Rose were high school sweethearts whose grandparents had arrived in Boston from Ireland and whose fathers both held elective office. The couple’s political backgrounds and overarching ambitions meshed to create a family that would one day be called America’s royalty.

Rose, a devout Catholic, would not use birth control, and friends told her she was crazy to have another child at 41. “I became so incensed and so annoyed at being constantly berated that I determined secretly that no one was going to feel sorry for me or my baby, and so perhaps that is why Ted is so full of optimism and confidence,” she wrote in her journal.

The littlest Kennedy was chubby and cheery, the freckle-faced pet of the family. “Biscuits and Muffins,” was the nickname his sister Jean — the next-youngest, four years older than Teddy — gave him. From the start he had an unusually sunny disposition. Like many youngest, he was eager to please, and took the teasing — and the occasional big-brother torture — with good humor. He mimicked the exploits of his siblings, skiing with them in Europe, jumping off high rocks on the French Riviera, and sailing in races — all by the age of 7.

When he was 5, his much-loved oldest brother, Joe Jr., tossed him out of the sailboat and into the cold Atlantic Ocean because Teddy didn’t know where the jib was. Joe hauled him right out of the water, but Teddy never forgot the wet lesson.

Rose and Joe Sr. expressed their love for their children in the form of high expectations, and by their standards, Teddy was often lacking. Rose was not a demonstrative mother, but the lifelong closeness between her and Teddy was extraordinary. Joe, too, had a weakness for his youngest, and neither parent pushed him quite so hard as they did the older boys, on whom the yoke of the family name rested most heavily. Teddy would for a long time be the victim — and the beneficiary — of lower expectations.

“We tried to keep everything more or less equal,” Rose once said. “But you wonder if the mother and father aren’t quite tired when the ninth one comes along.”

Teddy soon realized that his role in the family was like that of court jester, and he performed beautifully. A naturally gregarious child, he loved jokes and stories, and would entertain the others with his antics. At age 7, he wrote his father that he was going to the World’s Fair. “I think I am going to get a pony there and where do you think I could keep it? Maybe in the little tool house.”

Teddy was also the most considerate of the Kennedy boys. When he was 7, he wrote to his father about Halloween: “I got dressed up like a ghost and went all the way down the road. I didn’t scare because you said not to scare anyone because they may have a weak heart.”

But being the baby often means not being taken seriously, a consideration that would dog him throughout his life. The Kennedy dining room had an adult table for the older children where politics, current events, and literature were digested along with Joe’s favorite roast beef and strawberry shortcake. Teddy and Jean would sit at the baby table with an assigned older sibling. As Ted later wrote: “I learned that if I wanted to contribute something worthwhile to the conversation, I would have to talk about a book I was reading or an interesting place I had visited.”

Something worthwhile.

That was one of the many mantras the Kennedy parents imposed upon their children. Do something with your lives. Make something of yourselves. Give something back to others. Joe Kennedy Sr. set up million-dollar trust funds and told his children they’d never have to earn money; they should devote their lives to public service.

He had made a fortune as a banker, shipyard executive, liquor distributor, real estate investor, and Hollywood producer. But politics was his real love. In the early 20th century, Irish-Americans stood on the outside of America’s power structure; wealth was Joe Kennedy’s ticket to the inside.

A generous supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joe was rewarded by being named the first head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. In 1938, he got the job of his dreams: He became the first Irish-American ambassador to the Court of St. James. For a brief time, Joe even entertained the unlikely notion that he might become the first Irish-Catholic president of the United States.

In London, the Kennedy family settled into the 36-room embassy at 14 Princes Gate. To Teddy, the best part was the lift that he and Bobby nearly wore out until their parents put a stop to it.

Weary of the talk of war and bored with stuffy King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, London embraced the energetic, photogenic Kennedy family. The press followed the children to the zoo, Kensington Gardens, Buckingham Palace, and Hyde Park. They were there when Teddy tried to take a picture with his camera upside down and when sisters Rosemary and Kathleen made their debuts into London society. At the Vatican, Teddy received his First Communion from Pope Pius XII.

Those were happy times for the family, a rare period when all 11 were together. Joe Sr. gave their nanny, Elizabeth Dunn, a movie camera and told her to record whatever she could: a frisky Teddy in short pants and knee socks posing with the king and queen, goofing off with his father, sitting on his sisters’ laps.

But behind the frivolity, Joe Kennedy had made a massive miscalculation. He had naively misjudged both the Nazis and England, and his outspoken isolationist views on keeping America out of World War II won him few friends in the White House or abroad. It was the end of his political career. Returning home in 1940, he began to focus on his sons’ futures instead. Joe Jr., he hoped, would assume high office someday, followed by Jack.

Bobby and Teddy were still boys; the pressure on them would come later.

Epic tragedies, everyday travails

World War II would cost the Kennedy family dearly; it marked the start of what later would be called “The Kennedy Curse.”

In 1943, Jack narrowly escaped death when his PT boat was sunk in the South Pacific. A year later, Joe Jr. was killed when his Navy plane blew up during a risky volunteer mission. A month after that, Kathleen’s husband, a British airman, was killed in the war. And in 1948, Kathleen, who had stayed in London, died in a private plane crash over the French Alps.

Before all that, in 1941, Joe, without telling the family, had Rosemary, who was said to be mildly retarded, lobotomized. The operation failed, and she remained in an institutional setting until her death in 2005.

Teddy was 8 when Rosemary disappeared from the home, 12 when Joe Jr. died, and 16 at Kathleen’s death. After London, the Kennedy kids were scattered. The Hyannis Port house became the one constant in their disparate lives, particularly for Teddy. Mary Jo Gargan, his cousin, spent many summers there after her parents died. Her mother, Agnes, was Rose’s beloved sister.

“For us younger children left at home, we were a little bit like the golden children of the war, and Teddy was the golden child of Joe and Rose at the time,” says Mary Jo, who later would marry Ted’s Harvard football teammate Dick Clasby.

But there was sadness everywhere. After Joe Jr.’s death, Rose would take her books, journal, and rosary beads down to the one-room hut her husband built for her next to the ocean. In some ways, Mary Jo recalls, Rose relied on her youngest child as a calming, cheery presence, an escape from her grief and worry. “My observation now is that Teddy was sort of the bright light. He’s got a lot of empathy and I think those years at the Cape, as those tragedies were happening, he probably took on that role.”

Joe and Rose, who were often apart, acted as partners in a franchise. Their product: national leaders who would vastly expand the Kennedy brand. As Rose once wrote: “A mother knows that hers is the influence which can make that little precious being to be a leader of men, an inspiration, a shining light in the world.”

Teddy was only 8 years old when his father wrote him from London during the Blitz: “I hope when you grow up you will dedicate your life to trying to work out plans to make people happy instead of making them miserable, as war does today.” It was advice Ted Kennedy never forgot and often repeated.

Though the children were blessed with all the material comforts they could want, every-day life wasn’t always easy. Second place was never good enough for their father, whose parenting slogans included, “I don’t want any losers in this family,” and “No sour pusses.” There would be no “rich, idle bums,” either.

It wasn’t much different with their mother. With nine children, Rose had to run a tight ship, and she set household rules that few dared break for fear of a whack from her infamous wooden coat hanger. Child-rearing was a strict endeavor in that era and Rose, a perfectionist, followed the books to the letter. The children were to get up at the same time every day and go to bed at the same time. Dinner was always at 7:30, and Rose would lead the way into the dining room. At the end of the meal, she would lead the way out.

The Kennedy dinner table was a classroom, with Rose and Joe quizzing their children and encouraging their political views. Where is Siam? Who is the president of France? Rose’s obsession with improving her children knew no bounds. In 1975, when Ted was a third-term senator and Rose was 85, she wrote him: “I watched you speak about drugs last Friday night . . . Please say, ‘If I were President,’ not ‘If I was president.’ The reason is the old what used to be known in Latin as condition contrary to fact. For instance, ‘if I were he,’ etc.”

As for Joe, he was known to order the boys to their rooms if they goofed off and lost a sailing race. Still, he was the emotive hugger in the family and wrote his children reams of letters during his frequent absences.

It has been said that the Kennedys competed among themselves and against the world. Indeed, Joe and Rose encouraged what they considered healthy competition, which could become a Darwinian struggle within the family — the youngest often losing out. The legendary football games in Hyannis Port were dress rehearsals for the real family sport: politics.

With the kids off at boarding school, college, or the military, both Rose and Joe traveled widely but rarely together: She went for shopping and culture, he for business and extramarital affairs. Before landing at the Fessenden School in Newton at age 11, Teddy had been in 10 different schools, always the new boy, never able to put down roots.

“I think Ted did have probably a very sad childhood in spite of terrific parental support,” says his longtime friend John Culver, who would later join Kennedy in the Senate. “I mean, to be away at school at that age is hard, and the thing that’s amazing to me is how he’s come through it, in terms of his personality. Part of it I think is reflected in his incredible empathy and sympathy and in the political positions he’s taken. 

Parental prodding, from afar

Ted’s academic record was mediocre, and both parents were constantly on him about his spelling, his marks — and his weight. The huskiest of the weight-obsessed Kennedys, Teddy had a love of sweets that was the stuff of family lore.

Rose didn’t just write Teddy chiding him about being in “the fourth fifth” of his class. She also wrote the headmaster at Fessenden to complain that her 11-year-old still counted on his fingers: “Will you please bring it to the attention of his arithmetic teacher in the fall?”

Joe could be merciless, too. “You still spell ‘no’ ‘know,”‘ he wrote his 13-year-old son. “Skating is not ‘scating,’ ” and so on. He ended on a sardonic note: “I am sorry to see that you are starving to death. I can’t imagine that ever happening to you if there was anything at all to eat around, but then you can spare a few pounds.”

Perhaps the toughest parental scolding was that which compared the siblings with one another. In a letter that reveals much about the family dynamic, Joe wrote the 11-year-old Teddy: “You didn’t pass in English or Geography and you only got 60 in Spelling and History. That is terrible. . . . You wouldn’t want to have people say that Joe and Jack Kennedy’s brother was such a bad student, so get on your toes.”

Joe Jr. was the charming, ambitious brother. Jack was the reflective intellectual. Bobby was serious and dogged. Teddy was the late bloomer, more into sports than grades.

Always deferential to his parents, Teddy took such comparisons as a normal part of growing up Kennedy. To him, family loyalty was paramount. He believed that his parents’ words were for the children’s own good — a generous interpretation, since he often came out on the short end.

He would remain a devoted son, putting together books of remembrances upon his parents’ deaths. “For all of us, Dad was the spark and Mother was the light of our lives. He was our greatest fan and she was our greatest teacher,” he wrote. “Whatever any of us has done — whatever contribution we have made — begins with Rose and Joe Kennedy.”

During that time at Fessenden and Milton Academy, where he spent his high school years, Ted grew especially close to his maternal grandfather, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, a former congressman and mayor of Boston who was the consummate constituent politician.

Teddy often spent Sundays with the old man, an affable and voluble character who would take his grandson on the same historical tours he took Rose on as a child, explaining the importance of the Old North Church or the elegance of Louisburg Square. He also took Teddy down to the wharves where the immigrants came in and he introduced him around.

“Teddy was more Honey Fitz than Joe Kennedy,” says Robert Healy, who covered the 1960 presidential election for the Globe. “Honey” was sweet and warm, whereas Joe was colder, more calculating.

At Milton Academy, which was also Bobby’s alma mater, Ted played football, tennis, and hockey but was not a standout. He was also in the drama, debate, and glee clubs, the latter reflecting his lifelong love of singing. As a senior, he ran a distant third in the “Class Politician” category. He went to dances and wrote his father that he was “getting to know more girls, which couldn’t please me more.”

Despite his mother’s best efforts, young Teddy was far from perfectly behaved. Though teachers remarked on his genial personality, there were also notes home about demerits for minor offenses. While at Milton, Teddy borrowed the car of former Boston Police Commissioner Joseph Timilty, a close family friend. After it stalled out a few times, Teddy simply abandoned it in Mattapan — though he informed “The Commish,” as the family called Timilty.

In the fall of 1950, Ted followed his brothers and his father to Harvard, where his main interest was football. He was a big, fearless end on the freshman team. But that spring, he was in danger of flunking Spanish. He needed to pass the final to be eligible to play the following fall. A teammate took the exam for him but when he turned in the blue book, the teaching assistant recognized him as Bill Frate, not Ted Kennedy. Both boys were thrown out of school; they could return in two years pending good behavior.

“Teddy didn’t manage himself effectively,” recalls classmate Burton Hersh, later a Kennedy biographer. “Afterwards, his father said, ‘Don’t do this cheating thing, you’re not clever enough.’ ”

Biding his time until he could be readmitted to Harvard, Ted joined the Army and spent two years as a military policeman stationed in Paris; Joe, with his political connections, had made sure his youngest wasn’t sent to Korea. Ironically, a few months before the cheating incident, he had written Ted: “Keep after the books if only to keep the draft away from your door.”

Back at Harvard in the summer of 1953, Teddy buckled down with his government studies — and managed an A- in Spanish. But he saved plenty of time for play, holding court at a jock’s table in Winthrop House, where his brothers had also lived. “He had such a zest for life,” says classmate Claude Hooton, who has remained a close friend. “We had so much fun.”

When Jack Kennedy was in the hospital recovering from an illness, Ted and Hooton would visit and sing “Bill Bailey” and “Heart of my Hearts.” One summer, they started a water-skiing school in Southern California.

Teddy often took friends to Hyannis Port for cookouts and touch football and went to dances with Wellesley College girls. Teddy and Dick Clasby would rate the girls they met: A through F. “He had a twinkle in his eye for pretty girls,” Clasby says.

The high point of Ted’s football career came senior year in a snowstorm when he caught a short pass on Yale’s seven-yard line and scored. Harvard lost, but Joe, who came to all of his games, was deliriously proud, and Teddy got his varsity football letter.

Then there was church, a given in the Kennedy household. Rose was obsessively religious, often attending Mass twice daily. She told her son if he went to Mass seven straight Fridays, he was guaranteed to go to heaven.

“So Ted and I went seven Fridays, and that was it,” says Clasby. “That was the deal.” Ted still attends Mass regularly, even when Clasby and other friends are at Hyannis Port for their annual sailing hiatus.

‘Let’s stay out of gossip columns.’

In 1956, Teddy graduated from Harvard and enrolled in law school at the University of Virginia, Bobby’s alma mater. At UVa., Teddy pored over his books, writing his father: “Am holding on down here on my 12-hour-a-day schedule.” He would end up around the middle of his class, says his friend John Tunney.

Still, he and Tunney, his roommate and son of heavyweight boxing champ Gene Tunney, won the law school’s prestigious moot court competition, beating out 49 other teams over five rounds that spanned a year and a half. “And of course, Teddy just loved the fact that he had won and Bobby had not,” says Tunney, who would also serve in the Senate with Ted and John Culver.

Just as important was a note he got from Joe, who couldn’t resist a family comparison: “You did a great job winning that event. Scholastically, it certainly fits with anything anybody has ever done before — including your father!”

In Charlottesville, Ted and Tunney lived in a house on Barracks Road, “just made for two young men who loved to speed because it had turns,” says Tunney. Kennedy’s fast driving had long been noted by his friends: Ted Sorensen, JFK’s speechwriter, remembers riding back from the Cape to Boston with Teddy. “It was the first time in my young life that I realized when cars coming from the other direction blink their lights at you, it means there’s a trooper up ahead and you ought to slow down,” says Sorensen.

After one police chase while in law school, with speeds up to 90 miles per hour, Teddy was charged with reckless driving and driving without a license, which he had left at home. “If you’re going to make the political columns,” wrote his father, “let’s stay out of the gossip columns.”

Still, Joe managed to keep the arrest out of the news for several weeks, releasing it just after he released the news that Teddy was going to head Jack’s 1958 Senate campaign. The positive story had the effect of blunting the negative one and again Joe, the ultimate fixer, had come through.

Marital step, political leap

Joe and Rose soon decided it was time for their free spirit to settle down. After all, Jack was a US senator and Bobby was making a name for himself as a chief counsel in the Senate.

At the start of Ted’s second year at UVa., the family went to Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. to dedicate a sports complex they had built in honor of Kathleen. There, Jean, a Manhattanville alumna, introduced Teddy to Joan Bennett, a senior at the Catholic women’s school. “I was not intimidated because I had never heard of the Kennedys before,” says Joan, who grew up in Westchester County. ” No one had ever heard of the Kennedys outside Massachusetts.”

Teddy made quite an impression on his own: “He was tall and he was gorgeous.” The two began seeing each other and Rose invited Joan to Hyannis Port, where so many Kennedy dates had been vetted.

Ted proposed on the beach near the Kennedy estate, mumbling: “What do you think about us getting married?” The two hadn’t spent much time alone — their half-dozen weekends together were always group affairs. “I guess we felt we knew each other, but there were no deep talks,” she says.

They were married Nov. 29, 1958, by Cardinal Spellman at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Bronxville. At the reception, Jack had to tell a hovering Rose: “Mother, he’s not a baby anymore. He’s married. He has a wife.”

During the festivities, Jack, Ted’s godfather and best man, wore a microphone because the Bennetts had hired a film crew as a wedding gift. Later, watching the footage, Joan would hear Jack whisper to his brother that marriage didn’t mean you had to be faithful. It was not the gift her father had planned, but it did serve as an early warning: Like his father and his brother Jack, Teddy would have a problem with fidelity.

Three weeks before the wedding, Jack had won reelection to the Senate against an obscure candidate, Vincent Celeste, with an unprecedented 74 percent of the vote. Joe’s plan had been to make this election the largest landslide in Massachusetts history, the better to position Jack for a 1960 presidential run.

It also served as Teddy’s political baptism: Jack had tapped his 26-year-old brother, still in law school, to be chairman of the campaign. What Teddy lacked in experience he made up for in enthusiasm, going to union halls, factory gates, and teas.

Unlike his brothers, Teddy seemed to revel in the hand-shaking and back-slapping. “One of his abiding strengths was that he genuinely liked talking to people,” says Gerard Doherty, who ran signature drives with Ted. “He’d talk to telephone poles if he could, whereas Bobby and Jack were a little more uncomfortable.”

Still, he was considered the kid brother, the one who campaigned on behalf of others.

In the 1960 race, he was assigned the 13 western states, which were predominantly Republican. “Teddy’s role was that of a young kid who would do anything to get his brother elected,” recalls Bob Healy. In Wisconsin, he promised folks at a bar that he’d go off a ski jump if they’d support Jack. Soaring off the 180-foot jump, he managed to land on his feet. In Montana he came out of a rodeo gate riding a bucking bronco, holding on for five seconds before being tossed off.

Despite Ted’s efforts, JFK lost all but three western states. But he had won the election, and it was about time, Joe thought, for his youngest son to emerge from the shadows and take his rightful place in American politics.


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