Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kennedy remembered

One year ago I arrived at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado, at p.m. for a another day of watching America begin the process of selecting Barack Obama the Democratic nominee for president of the United States. It was on that day I saw the synergy of the past and the future merge in an address by Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy. The irony is one year later August 26, 2009, the “lion of the senate” has passed following his battle with brain cancer.

While in Denver I traveled to the hotel where the Maryland delegation was staying trying to catch up on the comings and goings of Maryland political officials. While sitting in the lobby, I saw Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. I quickly realized the hotel was also ground zero for the Massachusetts delegation.

After talking with several Marylanders, I noticed there was scurrying in the hotel lobby. I wondered why guests were grabbing their cameras, whispering, “Is it him?”

“Is it who?” I questioned.

“Teddy,” they told me.

Instinctively I knew they were talking about Senator Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts’ favorite son. The senator had not been seen since telling the world he had brain cancer. Would he make an appearance at this convention? I would get my answer that evening.

I’ve met Sen. Kennedy on several occasions. One of the more interesting encounters was when I was working in West Palm Beach, Florida. In 1981, Kennedy’s mother, Rose Kennedy, had fallen at her home in Palm Beach. She had been taken to a hospital and the legislator left the senate to see his mother.

We were waiting for him at the Palm Beach Airport. Most television crews were looking for flights from Boston. My assignment desk told me he was coming from Washington. As I scanned the boards there was only one flight coming from Washington. It happened to be on a newly started airline called People’s Express.

When the plane landed I got to ask him questions before other crews arrived. As he was leaving an elderly woman stopped me, “Who was that?” she asked.

“That was Ted Kennedy,” I said.

“Really?” she asked. “Because People’s Express is the cheap airline,” she said in a snobbish tone. I guess when trying to reach your ill mother who cares how you travel? (FYI, People’s became my favorite airline.)

My other encounter with Kennedy swirled around the effort to create a national monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was one of the earliest politicians to sign on to the legislation to create the monument.

The DNC had varied themes for each day. This was all about connecting the past to the future. The convention planners were going to milk this for all its worth. I’ve attached the video shown to convention that chronicled his life.

At the end he appears on stage. We in the press room wondered if he would deliver a speech or just make an appearance. As he spoke there was the same fire in his voice he’d delivered at previous conventions. As I think back I’m reminded of his line “the torch has been passed to a new generation.”

The Kennedy legacy in the United States Senate is unparalleled. Name any piece of legislation affecting changes in society and it has his name on it, from civil rights, Title 9 legislation and his enduring desire for universal health care. You will hear tributes and the personal tales of how he had friends in both parties. He came of age when politics was the not the “blood sport” it is now.

He was human and that was clear. The 1969 Chappaquiddick incident, where a female staffer was drowned in a car he was driving after it flipped over in a marsh proved he wasn’t as pristine as reports made him. This incident, I believed, doomed any chance at being president. But despite this he persevered on. He would never receive the type of adulation and reverence of his brothers. (There were some African-American homes that had a picture of Jesus Christ, President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy).

There will be long lines at the Kennedy memorial with people telling tales. This is just mine.

Charles Robinson, III
Reporter, State Circle

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