Kennedy clan gathers for swan song

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BOSTON — The Kennedy dynasty, synonymous with Massachusetts politics and Democratic liberalism for the lifetime of most Americans, gathered this week at the Democratic National Convention for a last hurrah.

The state’s leading newspaper, the Boston Globe, marked the imminent transition on its front page yesterday.

The paper reported that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy would “cede the spotlight” with his speech to the convention last night and stand aside as Sen. John Kerry seeks to become the first Massachusetts resident of the White House since John F. Kennedy was killed in 1963.

The 72-year-old Mr. Kennedy is the surviving son of the storied family that included three U.S. senators, all of whom vied for the White House, with one finding success. Mr. Kennedy’s own hopes for the White House were forever hampered on July 20, 1969, when a young woman in a car he was driving drowned when he drove off a bridge into a tidal pond in Chappaquiddick, Mass.

Three Kennedys are on the convention floor this week — the Massachusetts senior senator; his son, Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island; and his niece, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

And at least 108 Kennedys gathered here to dedicate a 27-acre downtown park named for family matriarch Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy at ceremonies timed to coordinate with the convention centerpiece speech by Mr. Kennedy.

As the Democratic nominee for president, Mr. Kerry would enjoy a level of Kennedy support once considered unlikely and assume for himself the mantle of party leader in Massachusetts.

The Globe noted that Mr. Kerry actually joked about the Kennedys in the Bay State when he began his Iowa primary campaign, staffed in part by former Kennedy aides.

“I thank you for welcoming this refugee from Massachusetts, which is the Wampanoag Indian name meaning ‘Land of Many Kennedys,’” Mr. Kerry said.

As Mr. Kennedy himself noted in his speech last night, “To my fellow delegates and my fellow Democrats, I have waited a very, very long time to say this: Welcome to my hometown.”

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat and a longtime Kennedy friend, pointed out recently that Boston has the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, a John F. Kennedy Boulevard and the Kennedy courthouse.

“For modern Democrats, you can’t dissociate the city of Boston, the state of Massachusetts and the Kennedy family,” Mr. Dodd said.

The prospect that Mr. Kerry will displace the 42-year Senate veteran as a Democratic party leader sparked speculation about who Republicans might substitute as the next spendthrift liberal boogeyman against whom to campaign.

“I welcome that badge and wear it with honor,” Mr. Kennedy said last week of the Republicans’ view. But he quickly shifted the focus: “This is John Kerry’s convention from start to finish.”

Former Kennedy chief of staff Mary Beth Cahill, who is the Kerry campaign manager, seconded that and praised her former boss as a backbone of the Kerry effort from the start of the Iowa primary.

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