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Potential Successors For Kennedy's Senate Seat 09:06

This article is more than 11 years old.

With the passing of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy comes the question of his successor.

Massachusetts law says the state must hold a special election no later than five months from now, possibly as late as January 2010, meaning the Bay State could only have one voice in the Senate for awhile.

Legislative leaders on Beacon Hill are expected to consider changing the law so that the governor can appoint an interim successor, but they appear to be in no rush. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he might hold a public hearing on the issue within a month.

Though no one has declared candidacy, Democratic consultant Dan Payne has a list of potential interim successors:

  • Vicki Kennedy, the late senator's wife
  • Michael Dukakis, the former Massachusetts governor
  • Peter Meade, who leads the Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate at UMass Boston
  • Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general
  • Joe Kennedy, the former Massachusetts congressman

And Payne's list of potential permanent replacements:

  • Joe Kennedy
  • Michael Capuano, 8th district U.S. representative
  • Stephen Lynch, 9th district U.S. representative
  • Edward Markey, 7th district U.S. representative
  • Marty Meehan, chancellor, UMass Lowell
  • Michael Sullivan, U.S. attorney for Massachusetts
  • Scott Brown, Massachusetts state senator

For more on the succession process, we spoke with Payne in WBUR's Studio 3.

Bob Oakes: Gov. Deval Patrick told WBUR on Wednesday that he would sign a bill to appoint an interim successor, but the Senate president and the House speaker appear not yet prepared to state their intentions on the issue. In your opinion, what's the likelihood that state lawmakers are going to pass a bill to give the governor the go-ahead to appoint someone?

Dan Payne: Well, let's not forget that the idea of filling the seat on a temporary basis was Sen. Kennedy's, so he knew how important just one vote could be in the health care reform front and on many other issues, including lots of them that have to do with the economy and finance.

So I think they're going to get a lot of phone calls — the Mass. Legislature is going to get a lot of phone calls — in the next day or two from Washington.

From Democrats concerned about the important votes coming up on Capitol Hill?

That's right. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, is going to be eager to have that seat filled as soon as possible.

If the law were to change, I assume you think it wouldn't take Gov. Patrick very long to make a decision about who to appoint.

No. I mean the whole idea is to get somebody in the seat as soon as possible, so Gov. Patrick would do that.

Well let's talk about some of those names, and we'll talk first about who might fill the job on an interim basis, should that come to pass, and then who might the candidates be for a special election coming up.

I know there are three names on your short-term list: Vicki Kennedy, the late senator's wife; former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis; and Peter Meade, who leads the Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate at UMass Boston.

Yes, that's my list. Let me make the case for Sen. Kennedy's will: Vicki Kennedy. She comes from a political family, she spent nearly every day of their marriage at Sen. Kennedy's side. She'd have immediate entree to any Senate office, but we have to take her at her word for the time being that she's not interested in it — she may change her mind in several days.

Gov. Dukakis is well-known and respected in Washington. He is almost as passionate about health care as he is about mass transit. He'd be very engaged in the process in Washington and he's not a politically ambitious guy at this point in his career and so he'd step aside when a special election winner is announced.

And finally, Peter Meade, he runs the newly-created Kennedy Center for the U.S. Senate. He's a long-time friend of Sen. Kennedy's; was Mayor White's public safety coordinator during the busing crisis; he worked with the Catholic church during the pedophile scandals; he chairs the Rose Kennedy Greenway; he had a radio talk show for years; and he just left Blue Cross, where he is familiar with the health insurance issues of the day.

A perfect placeholder.


Let's talk about the long-term candidates — possible long-term candidates, we don't want to say that anyone has said that they're actually in the race yet.

Let me ask first of all about a Kennedy: former Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy, who's running his oil for the poor program right now. Do you think he's willing to step in?

I think if he expresses interest in it to Gov. Patrick — and Vicki Kennedy has not — then I think Joe Kennedy would be another name to either be the short-term or the special election candidate, and he'd have an unusual amount of juice owing to his name.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who's said to be running something of a shadow campaign for U.S. Senate now.

Yes. Martha Coakley hasn't been exactly quiet about her interest in running for the Senate, which is not — there's nothing wrong with that. But, we should remember now, Massachusetts is slightly embarrassed by the fact that we don't have very many women in public office, especially statewide.

I mean, Maine's got two female senators, so does Washington state, so does California — and we've got zero statewide figures who are women.

Although, attorneys general in Massachusetts have always had a problem moving up to higher office.

Absolutely. The last two failed from both parties. It's a tricky bit of footing to go from AG to Senate or AG to governor. And this is true, by the way, Bob, around the country, it's not just a phenomenon here.

No shortage of Massachusetts congressmen, present and former, who might be on the list.

Michael Capuano?

Yeah. Mike Capuano is a congressman from Somerville, he has several hundred thousand dollars in his political bank account — money's very important. He does have a key job on what's called a steering and policy committee, which is sort of a substantive and political office in Washington.

He's easy to overlook until you realize that he actually won a crowded primary to get his congressional seat. I think Mike Capuano has a good shot at this thing because he's been thinking about it for a long time.

Stephen Lynch?

Steve Lynch, congressman from South Boston, supposedly has a million dollars in his political bank account. If he runs, he could have a lock on the conservative Democratic wing of the party — he's opposed to abortion rights, he's a former iron worker who has good relations with organized labor. And his play will be to just move himself a little bit right of the rest of the field, and hope that he can turn that into a winning move.

Edward Markey?

Ed Markey, from Malden, started to run in 2004, when it looked like John Kerry might become president. Ed's House committees deal with some very important issues and I think he is probably going to stay put, but let's just see in the next week or so whether he changes his mind.

Marty Meehan, the former congressman, runs UMass Lowell, has a huge bank account, over $4 million standing by, but has said that he's interested in staying put.

Yeah, I take him at his word on this. He took the presidency of UMass Lowell just two years ago, and I gotta believe that they extracted a promise from him not to run should a statewide job become available.

OK, and Republicans. Tell me who's on the list — and do they have a ghost of a chance?

They're in a very difficult position, because the state is so Democratic and this will be seen as the Kennedy seat. The two that come up frequently are Mike Sullivan, a Republican who is the top federal law enforcement official and has worked in Washington. He built a good office with a national following, but, as I said, I think I don't see how a Republican fashions a victory.

The other one mentioned is Scott Brown, who's a Republican state senator. He has served in the House of Representatives as well as the state senate. He's a visible Republican, maybe one of the most visible in the state. He does have one curious bit of business in his background: He posed in the nude for Cosmopolitan magazine in 1982.

OK. Of all those names, who do you think the front runner is?

For the special election?

That's right.

I think Martha Coakley. Because she's got the woman's vote, she's got an interesting background in law enforcement, she can raise money, has raised money, she sued some Big Dig contractors — she's got, I think, a very strong hand to play in a special election,

WBUR political consultant Dan Payne, thanks a lot for coming in, and we look forward to talking about all of this a lot more in the coming months.

You're welcome, Bob.

This program aired on August 27, 2009.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.


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