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I Beg Your Pardon
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, January 26, 2001

Question: Former Arizona governor Fife Symington, a Republican, was pardoned by President Clinton for offenses involving his activities as a real-estate developer. Is he related to the late Stuart Symington of Missouri, who served in the Truman administration and was later a senator and 1960 presidential hopeful? Also, I have heard that Fife Symington once saved a young Bill Clinton from drowning. Is that true? – Frank Ferrari, Mesa, Ariz.

Cousins, though not as close as Patty Duke and Cathy. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: Yes on both counts. First, John Fife Symington III is a distant cousin of Stu, who served four terms in the Senate as a Democrat from 1953 through 1976. And second, when they were college students in the 1960s – Fife at Harvard, and Clinton at Georgetown – Symington saved Clinton at a beach party in Massachusetts, when young Bill was being pulled away by a strong tide.

Question: Can you tell me whom President Bush appointed to be Secretary of Education? Also, where might I find biographical information for that individual? – Shirley Peterson, Albuquerque, N.M.

Answer: It's Rod Paige, the superintendent of schools for Houston since 1994. Paige was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on Jan. 24. The Washington Post ran the following profile of Paige on Dec. 30, 2000.

Question: Which Republican senators voted to convict President Clinton on both counts during the impeachment saga, and how did they fare in last year's election? – Robert Gray, Columbus, Ind.

Answer: Here's how the GOP senators who faced re-election last year voted on the articles of impeachment, and how they did in November.

Voted guilty on both articles and reelected (9): Burns (Mont.), DeWine (Ohio), Frist (Tenn.), Hatch (Utah), Kyl (Ariz.), Lott (Miss.), Lugar (Ind.), Santorum (Pa.), Thomas (Wyo.).

Voted guilty on both articles and defeated (4): Abraham (Mich.), Ashcroft (Mo.), Grams (Minn.), Roth (Del.).

Voted not guilty on both articles and reelected (2): Jeffords (Vt.), Snowe (Maine).

Voted not guilty on both articles and defeated: 0.

In addition, Gorton of Washington – who voted guilty on Article II but not guilty on Article I – lost his bid for reelection.

Question: In your Jan. 20 column you wrote about Ted Kennedy's first race for the Senate in 1962, saying that he easily defeated House Speaker John McCormack's nephew in the Democratic primary. You also said one of the contenders for the GOP nomination was George Cabot Lodge, the son of Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. Did Lodge indeed face Ted Kennedy in the general election? And, if so, what was Kennedy's margin of victory? Furthermore, wasn't this the same Senate seat that had been held not only by JFK but also by the elder Lodge whom JFK defeated in 1952? – Danny W. Davis, Clermont, Fla.

Answer: Kennedy's victory that November over Republican George Cabot Lodge was by a 55-42 percent margin, considerably closer than Teddy's romp in the Democratic primary over McCormack. Yes, this was the same seat that was held eight years by brother John F. Kennedy and six years before that by Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., who, as you note, lost to JFK in '52. Going back even further, Lodge's grandfather, Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge Sr., defeated John F. ("Honey Fitz") Fitzgerald – father of Rose Kennedy – for the seat in 1916.

Question: What happened to Kenny O'Donnell, the Kennedy pal whom Kevin Costner plays in "Thirteen Days"? What does he do? Is he still alive? His wife, Helen O'Donnell, wrote a book about him but I can't find it or much about it. – Pam Fleischaker, Oklahoma City, Okla.

It was easier being a Kennedy confidant than being a candidate. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: Kenneth P. O'Donnell, the ultimate Kennedy loyalist, died on Sept. 9, 1977, at the age of 53. He was Robert Kennedy's best friend and a longtime Jack Kennedy adviser. He and Bobby were teammates on the Harvard football team in the late 1940s, which began a special friendship that lasted until Bobby's assassination in 1968. The two worked on JFK's first Senate race in 1952, and O'Donnell assisted RFK when Bobby was counsel to the Senate Rackets Committee in the mid-'50s. Joining the Kennedy administration in 1961, O'Donnell was probably more closely involved in policy decisions – including the Cuban Missile Crisis – than anyone whose last name was not Kennedy. He also arranged the fateful trip to Dallas in November of 1963, and in fact was in a car just about 10 feet behind the president's when the bullets came. It was an indescribable blow to O'Donnell, who long blamed himself for the assassination.

Leaving the White House after an unhappy time serving under Lyndon Johnson, O'Donnell ran for governor of Massachusetts in 1966. But he found that it was much easier being an influential adviser than a candidate. Hampered by a lack of money and the active opposition of the Democratic establishment – and a victim of a less than gregarious campaign style – he lost the primary to state Attorney General Edward McCormack, the same Edward McCormack who had run a bitter Senate campaign against Ted Kennedy four years prior (see last week's column). The margin was about 64,000 votes, closer than the polls had predicted.

But the horror of President Kennedy's death and the disappointment of personal electoral defeat were nothing to O'Donnell compared to the assassination of RFK in 1968. O'Donnell had strongly urged Bobby to challenge President Johnson for renomination in 1968 and served as his campaign manager. When the second Kennedy brother was gunned down, O'Donnell was devastated, and his life began to take a downward spiral. He made a second, more half-hearted bid for the governorship in 1970, finishing a poor fourth in a primary field of four Democrats, with just 9 percent of the vote. With his best friends murdered and his political career in shambles, he began drinking heavily. O'Donnell died of alcoholism in 1977 – just months after his wife died of the same illness.

It was actually his daughter, Helen, who wrote the 1998 book A Common Good: The Friendship of Robert F. Kennedy and Kenneth P. O'Donnell (William Morrow & Co.). NPR's Liane Hansen conducted a very moving interview with Helen O'Donnell on July 26, 1998. You can hear it, or read the transcript, at www.npr.org.

Department of Corrections: Your redoubtable columnist needs to clarify two issues from last week's column. I wrote, incorrectly, that Spiro Agnew resigned the vice presidency in 1973 after he pleaded nolo contendere to charges of income-tax evasion. Eric Newman of Englewood, N.J., set me straight, pointing out that the resignation came first, "so that history would not have to record that the vice presidency was occupied by a felon."

And then there was a confusing part to my answer about the change in total House membership, as well as in the Electoral College, between 1960 and 1964. Basically, the addition of Alaska and Hawaii temporarily increased the House total to 437, which reverted back to 435 after 1962. Of course, the addition of the District of Columbia did add three electoral votes, but that had nothing to do with the size of the House, since D.C. does not have any voting House members. Thanks to two alert Marylanders, Colin Canavan of Bethesda and Matt Pinkus of Silver Spring, for their help with what was otherwise a splendid column.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 2001 Ken Rudin

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