Ted Kennedy doesn't like being made the heavy. Mike Barnicle of The Boston Globe knows that now.
Barnicle, whose thrice-weekly column runs in The Globe's metro section, devoted his Nov. 16 effort to what he called "Kennedy's . . . ahh . . . growth."
"When Teddy is at McDonald's, you can watch the numbers change on the sign," Barnicle wrote of the senior senator from Massachusetts. "Watching Ted Kennedy get out of a chair is like watching the Russians get out of Afghanistan . . . he looks like the World Trade Center in a blue suit."
You could call it hitting around the belt.
Yesterday, Kennedy defended himself in a broad-based appeal to the editors. His letter, under the headline "Senator Weighs In With a Request," was printed as follows:
"I understand that one of your columnists, it may have been Ask Beth, made some reference to my having gained weight since I first ran for the U.S. Senate 24 years ago.
"I am sure I have the sympathy of all those who have a similar problem, including some members of The Globe staff. But when I get down to my fighting weight, which I plan to do, I would hope the Globe's policy of fairness will entitle me to the same expansive coverage."
Melody Miller, Kennedy's deputy press secretary, said the senator "has made his comment and that's all he intends to say. He will stand on what he has written."
Barnicle -- who also asserted, "You know where he stands: There's a dent in the ground" -- said yesterday that he wrote the column after watching Kennedy in a Boston campaign appearance with Walter Mondale. He wavered for several weeks on whether to print it because "somebody's weight is a very sensitive thing."
Clearly he has triumphed over his earlier squeamishness. "He looked so big," Barnicle said yesterday, "I thought he was going to leave Boston and go directly to New York to head up the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. He's always had this thing for ice cream. But he looked like he got a deal on it someplace."
Barnicle said reader response to the column, about 60 letters so far, has been mostly negative. "I can see all those 75-year-old Irish ladies -- 'Stop picking on the guy. If you had as much on your mind as Senator Kennedy does, you'd have an extra pancake at breakfast, too.' " But he also received a letter of support "from one of Teddy's relatives. I won't tell you who, but it said, 'Absolutely great.' "
As for Kennedy's intimations of flab at The Boston Globe, Barnicle describes himself as a 6-foot, 180-pound, five-mile-a-day jogger. Editor Thomas Winship, a 5-foot-8, 160-pound, two-mile-a-day jogger, added, "There are a handful of fat people and huge columns of people who are lean and hungry. There are tall people and there are short people."
Miller said Kennedy is 6 feet 2, but declined to give his weight. She said he was in Los Angeles last night to address an Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith banquet. She said she did not know if he intended to eat, too.