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Kennedy clan gathers for swan song

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.

"I think the most important thing he did was he was the first senator who endorsed Kerry," Miss Cahill said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast this week. "The fact that Kennedy came out [to Iowa] and we were able to do three rallies in two days that were very energetic, I think that was a turning point for the campaign."

The Boston Herald, whose editors don't always share the Globe's affection for Mr. Kennedy, splashed its Page One headline: "Teresa's Ted K Tirade."

The article reported that Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Mr. Kerry, told an interviewer in 1971 that she didn't trust Mr. Kennedy, and that she wrote an obscure book in 1975 in which she said he would be a "perfect bastard" if it were true that he remained in a troubled marriage to retain the Catholic vote.

For the Kennedy family, their week hit a high point on Monday at the dedication ceremony of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. The 27-acre preserve of parks, walkways and open space on the site of a former expressway is close to the North End house where she was born. Mrs. Kennedy died in 1995 at 104.

A symphony of pink, yellow and white roses marked the spot where the 108 family members and about 900 invited guests offered tributes and joined a rousing version of "Sweet Rosie O'Grady," led from the stage by Mr. Kennedy with sisters Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Jean Kennedy Smith, a former ambassador.

"Rose was a beautiful flower in our family, and this beautiful garden will be a beautiful tribute to her and to all she loved about our city," Mr. Kennedy said.

Surrounded by third-generation Kennedy children were other recognizable family members, including Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, daughter of the slain president; California first lady Maria Shriver; Mrs. Townsend; Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy; and former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

For the convention this week, the Kennedys hosted a clambake for Democratic donors at the Hyannis compound, and their cocktail fund-raiser at Boston College Club helped kick off the week's round of political shindigs.

On Sunday, about 320 financial supporters were hosted at the oceanside Kennedy estate, feasting on clams, lobsters, chicken, sausage, rolls and cookies.

The social schedule yesterday featured a luncheon hosted by Mr. Kennedy's wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, honoring Mrs. Kerry.

Staff writer Stephen Dinan contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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