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Kerry Pledges To Work Harder For Massachusetts01:55
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Sen. John Kerry spoke to a crowded auditorium during a town hall meeting on health care at Somerville High School on Wednesday. (Mary Schwalm/AP)
Sen. John Kerry spoke to a crowded auditorium during a town hall meeting on health care at Somerville High School on Wednesday. (Mary Schwalm/AP)

Sen. John Kerry on Wednesday night made his first appearance before Massachusetts residents since Sen. Edward M. Kennedy died. He pledged that he would carry on Kennedy's fight for health care.

Hundreds of people packed in to a hot high-school auditorium and overflow room to ask questions of the new senior senator.

Ellen Feldman of Cambridge said she was worried about the loss of Kennedy's voice on social issues.

"Will you pick up the mantle and be the leader in this fight for health care reform?" asked Feldman as the crowd broke into applause.

Kerry, standing in his shirtsleeves, said it would be "presumptuous" to claim any mantle.

"I will absolutely guarantee you this," he said. "This is the moment, this is the time, and I do understand that the cause endures. I pledge to you with every bone in my body that we are going to get it done. I will do the best that I can."

(Jess Bidgood for WBUR)
(Jess Bidgood for WBUR)

The crowd largely favored health care reform. In fact, many people asked why lawmakers were not seeking a single payer option, or they provided suggestions to tweak the plan to make it more palatable to Republicans. Another man asked why Democrats were not fighting back more.

"Well, I understand the frustration," Kerry said. "But let me tell you something: We are and we will and we're going to and we have been. But we're not going to stand for this and the American people deserve better. The last thing we need are distortions and misrepresentations and in some cases outright lies about what health care is going to do or not do."

Not all of the questions were favorable. Three out of about two dozen questions challenged the idea of health care reform. John Breshin of Somerville said that far fewer people are chronically uninsured than the 46 million claimed by Democrats.

"Would it or would it not make sense to develop a plan that addresses the needs of those people and help them go to the private market and get insurance, and not re-engineer the entire system that the vast majority is happy with?" Breshin asked.

Kerry said the private market is inefficient and costly, and that was why he was fighting for a public option, much like the state health care plan in Massachusetts.

Kerry said senators may not all agree on the public option, but many do support insurance reform and changing the way health care is delivered. And, in an aside with reporters, he said compromise will be important.

"I can't tell you what the mechanism or the process will be," Kerry said, "but we're going to try and get as many votes as we can and pass the broadest, most competent, thoughtful program that we can."

Kerry said lawmakers in Massachusetts can help. Next week, he will urge Beacon Hill to give the governor the power to appoint a temporary replacement for Kennedy.

This program aired on September 3, 2009.

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