Kennedy's Death Signals Political Change07:10

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This was a year of great political change for Massachusetts. It marked the end of the Kennedy dynasty that began when John F. Kennedy first won a seat in Congress in 1946. With the death of Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts lost its most powerful advocate in Washington.

WBUR's political reporter, Fred Thys, recently sat down with Bob Oakes to discuss the transformed landscape.

Though Long Expected, Kennedy's Death Locked Mass. In Grief

The morning we learned of the death of Ted Kennedy, I walked out of my house and I started talking to people at the coffee shop, at the gas station, folks getting ready to go to work at the train station. My biggest shock was to hear how many people here in Massachusetts, even on the day he died, had no kind words for Ted Kennedy.

But they were definitely a minority. Overwhelmingly, the great majority of people felt a great outpouring of emotion and a great sense of loss.

He was remarkable. He could have been anything and loafed all his life, but he was a man who really respected people. Respected people.
- Jack Cantor, who traveled from Belmont to the Kennedy Library in Dorchester

It was amazing to see how many people lined the streets the day that the Kennedy family held a procession through Boston when Kennedy's body traveled from the compound in Hyannisport to the Kennedy Library to lie in repose, and also to see the political intelligence of the Kennedy family in their response to the crowds: they waved and smiled, and at the Kennedy Library, they came out to talk to the people in line, introduced themselves, thanked people for coming, and posed for pictures with the mourners.

The Kennedys acknowledged that the outpouring was not about them, but about the people who turned out to pay their respects.

Kennedy's Funeral Drew Dignitaries, Four Presidents


The most moving moment of all, to me, was not when any dignitary spoke, but when Ted Kennedy, Jr. talked about his father in his eulogy.

When he was 12, Senator Kennedy's son was diagnosed with bone cancer. A few months later, he was struggling with an artificial leg, and his dad insisted that they go sledding.

The hill was very slick, and as I struggled to walk I slipped and I fell on the ice, and I started to cry, and I said, 'I can't do this! I'll never be able to climb up that hill!' And he lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms, and said something I will never forget. He said: 'I know you can do it! There is nothing that you can't do. We're going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.' Sure enough, he held me around my waist, and we slowly made it to the top.
- Ted Kennedy Jr.

By The Next Week, The Succession Race Was On

Within days [of Kennedy's funeral], Gov. Deval Patrick scheduled an election and Attorney General Martha Coakley took out her nomination papers.

But she was alone in the field for a week or so, because all the others waited to see if one of the Kennedy's would jump in the race. It was not until after Labor Day, when Joe Kennedy said he would not run for his uncle's seat, that other candidates announced that they would run.

Though we never did see [significant political figures], like we expected. Only one Congressman, Mike Capuano, decided to run, and all the others decided to stay in the House. City Year co-founder Alan Khazei and Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca rounded out the Democratic field.

On the Republican side, Andy Card, a former Bush Administration Chief of Staff, also decided to stay out of the race, leaving the field for State Sen. Scott Brown, essentially.

Legislature Gives Gov. Deval Patrick The Power To Appoint Interim Senator

When you think about the momentous change legislation that's pending in the Congress today, Massachusetts needs two voices.
- Gov. Deval Patrick

And from the Democrats' perspective, the governor turned out to be right. The interim Senator, Paul Kirk, was the 60th vote on Christmas Eve when the Senate passed its version of the historic reform of health care that Ted Kennedy fought so long for.

Coakley Emerges From Rapid Primary, Could Be State's First Female Senator

Women and women fund-raisers were a big factor in Coakley's head start in the primary race. She raised a lot of money through Emily's List, an organization that seeks to place women who support legalized abortion in office.

Coakley Faces Brown, independent Libertarian Joseph Kennedy In Jan. 19 Election

We've already heard Scott Brown complaining that Coakley is absent from the race, because he wants some attention, obviously. He is going to have even less time to get the voters' attention than Coakley's Democratic opponents had.  [Coakley is still the frontrunner], as much as Brown is going to try and change the dynamic.

This program aired on December 31, 2009.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.