Topic A: Friends and Colleagues Recall Moments With Ted Kennedy

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Friends and colleagues recall political and personal moments with the senator. Below are contributions from Gregory B. Craig, Bob Dole, Orrin Hatch, Mary Beth Cahill, Peter Edelman, Catherine A. "Kiki" McLean, John Sweeney, Kati Haycock and William M. Daley.


Former foreign policy adviser to Kennedy; White House counsel to President Obama

It was a late night in 1986, and the leadership of the American civil rights movement had gathered at Sen. Kennedy's invitation to await the Senate vote on the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid bill. We were camped out in one of those ornate meeting rooms down the hall from the Senate floor. Coretta Scott King was there. Jesse Jackson was there. John Lewis was there.

A vote to override President Reagan's veto of the bill seemed unlikely. The Senate was in the hands of a Republican majority. Reagan had been overwhelmingly reelected. Jesse Helms was riding high. But when the votes were counted, Congress had done something few thought possible: It had voted to override the veto and enact serious economic sanctions against the apartheid regime of South Africa.

When Sen. Kennedy entered the room, the crowd erupted with applause and hugs and congratulations. Two minutes into the celebration, Kennedy noticed that Treasury Secretary James Baker was watching from the door. Kennedy stopped the celebration, invited Baker in and introduced him, one by one, to everyone in the room. Kennedy was gracious in victory. Baker was gracious in defeat.


Kennedy joined the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1983, after the trauma of Vietnam and in the midst of the nuclear freeze movement. He spent much of his time on issues affecting military families. And when, in 1987, we traveled to the Persian Gulf and visited U.S. Navy vessels involved in the re-flagging operation, he made a point of meeting all the sailors and Marines from Massachusetts. My assignment was to get everyone in the long lines of servicemen eager to shake his hand to fill out a form with personal information: Name. Birthday. Address. Home telephone number. Parents' names.

After celebrating midnight Mass on the back deck of a helicopter carrier and, on Christmas morning, singing carols and saying prayers on a barge off the coast of Basra, Iraq, we flew back to the States. Kennedy ended up having a four-hour layover at JFK International Airport. And for those hours, I ran three pay phones, placing calls to the parents of the service members he had seen in the Gulf. I would call John Jones's home in Taunton, Mass., and say, "I am a member of Senator Kennedy's staff, and he is just back from a trip to the Gulf, where he saw John. He's just calling to check in." And on the other end of the line I would hear, "Marge, it's Teddy. He saw Johnny. Come over and listen." And then the senator would take the receiver and say, "Ted Kennedy here. Is that you, Marge? Well, I just saw your son, John, and he looks great. He has put on a little weight, but he says he's working out. I am just so proud of his service, and I just wanted to thank you for all that he is doing for our country."


Former Senate majority leader

Ted and I met to "Face Off" on the weekly radio show where we chose sides on issues and then insulted each other in a friendly way for 30 minutes. He was tough and skilled in debate. I remember how he once cleaned my clock at the Gridiron Dinner, a prestigious annual affair hosted by the writing press. Kennedy had access to top writers and he really whipped me good, but he was a gracious winner -- even offering me a glass of Dole pineapple juice afterward.

I learned that when you take on Ted Kennedy, be prepared or hide out till it's over.

Ted's mother, Rose, and I had the same birthday, and every July 22 I would salute Rose Kennedy on the Senate floor, and Ted was always there with a generous response.

I marveled at his ability to understand the guts of issues and his powerful voice for the most vulnerable in our society -- children, the disabled, the disenfranchised, the elderly and on and on.

He wasn't perfect. He had flaws and shortcomings, but he had a heart bigger than all outdoors and for that he will be part of American history for the right reasons. I considered him my friend, a relationship that developed as we worked on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday bill, the Americans With Disabilities Act, Social Security amendments and numerous other bills. He was a class act, and his friends and family will miss his wit and wisdom.


Republican senator from Utah

During one of the Senate's debates on the minimum wage, Teddy launched into one of his patented histrionic speeches. All the hallmarks of a Ted Kennedy speech were there -- flailing arms, red face and lots of red-meat liberal rhetoric. He really let our side have it over this disagreement. But when he finished, he came over to the Republican side of the Senate chamber, put his arm around my shoulder, and, with a laugh and a grin, said, "How was that, Orrin?"

This kind of thing happened countless times during our interactions in the Senate and typified Teddy's approach to passing legislation. While no one would call him a centrist or a fence-sitter, he never made his partisanship personal and, most of the time, if he believed you were sincere, he was willing to give ground to reach an agreement. He'll be missed both for his friendship and personality, as well his ability to get things done even in the most partisan times.


Former chief of staff to Kennedy

Sen. Kennedy had friends from all over the world and from every walk of life, and they had a tendency to drop by his office in the Russell Building. So it wasn't terribly out of the ordinary that one day about six years ago John Hume, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, came to visit -- with a 50-member boys choir from Ireland in tow. Of course the senator would see John and the boys, but they couldn't fit into his office. It was arranged that he would meet them in the Russell entry rotunda on the floor at the end of what turned out to be a long day.

As passers-by watched, Hume and the senator greeted each other heartily, and then John introduced the choirboys, who sang "Ave Maria" to honor Kennedy.

The senator clapped enthusiastically as the echoes of the beautiful song died out in the tall space. Then, to honor them, he sang his mother's favorite song, "Sweet Rosie O'Grady," alone and unaccompanied.

They clapped for each other, the bystanders clapped, and then he went on about the business of being Ted Kennedy.


Issues director of Kennedy's 1980 presidential bid; professor of law at Georgetown Law Center

Sen. Ted Kennedy cared deeply. A favorite memory of mine is from December 2004, when he asked a couple of us to brief him on what he might try to do about poverty in the following year's Congress. President Bush had just been reelected, and the Republicans still controlled Congress. The Russell Senate Office Building was deserted in a city that felt as bleak to Democrats as the gray winter sky outside. Other than the building staff, he and his staffers were the only people working. It didn't matter to him. He wanted to be ready.

We talked for two hours about a litany of issues. He pushed back, probed, asked question after question. And of course we were just two of what must have been a parade of people coming by to talk with him about what must have been dozens of subjects. He did that sort of thing year after year, decade after decade, continuously, steadfastly.

The results of his work are on the record -- the dozens of laws that he sponsored and saw through to enactment and the informal diplomacy at home and abroad that produced changes in executive policies of all kinds. I have a special memory of that December day for itself, but also because it was emblematic of Ted Kennedy's intense commitment to make our world a better place.


Democratic strategist; partner at the public relations firm Porter Novelli

As one of many young staffers working in Ted Kennedy's 1994 reelection campaign against Mitt Romney, I had the chance to see him up close with the people he loved most: the voters of Massachusetts. I grew up in the Texas of yellow-dog Democrats and anchored my career at the Democratic Leadership Council, home of the moderate Democrat. Yet I fell in love with Kennedy, leader of the liberals.

Already an icon, Kennedy shouldn't have had to take the fight to the streets, but that's what he did. There would be no winning from a distance for him. He rolled up his sleeves. He wanted to sit in diner booths with working men and women. He wanted to be on college campuses and hear from young people. When I suggested using rope lines, the response was immediate: Sen. Kennedy would allow no distance between himself and the people he served.

During the infamous Kennedy-Romney debate, the core of who he was and what he fought for was challenged. Kennedy never blinked. Rather than taking personal offense at attacks his opponents launched, he took pride in the people he served. The next morning he went to South Boston, a community that declared itself "Kennedy Country!" and stood again for everyone who was counting on him. The race was effectively over, and he won me over too, just as he had so many others.


President of the AFL-CIO

I'm not quite ready to live in a world in which Ted Kennedy is not a part. I was close to Ted for decades. He and I shared a common heritage, as Irish American Catholics, and a commitment to creating a world where working people will be respected and celebrated. He was a good friend, a good person. I'll never forget that just days after my granddaughter was born three years ago, I was still beaming with pride when I ran into Teddy. He asked me what her name was and I answered, "Kennedy." He looked at me, paused and said very sternly: "Never let her forget the power of her name." The next day my daughter received a gift from him -- a diaper cover that said "Irish mist."

That was the great thing about Teddy. One moment, he could be standing on the Senate floor, railing against special interests and the injustices of the world; the next, he could be making jokes and caring for the people around him.


President of the Education Trust

Sen. Ted Kennedy realized, before almost anyone else, that getting access to education for poor and minority students wasn't enough -- especially if the quality of that education was substandard.

We educators and advocates working to close gaps in educational opportunity and achievement owe much to his courageous voice for simple justice. He stood with us well before our cause was popular. He recruited allies and partners in some of the most surprising places. He supported us when the road was rough. But perhaps most important, he constantly pushed us, challenging all who serve America's children to do better by them, especially the most vulnerable.


Secretary of commerce from 1997 to 2000

Ted Kennedy was the best retail politician I have ever known, with a keen intellect combined with tremendous empathy. He was a friend I will miss terribly.

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