- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

UPDATED:

BOSTON (AP) — A Democratic aide says Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick will name former party chairman Paul Kirk to temporarily fill the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat.

The aide asked for anonymity to speak in advance of Patrick’s formal announcement Thursday.

The appointment will let Kirk serve in the interim post until voters pick a replacement in a Jan. 19 special election. It also gives President Barack Obama a critical 60th U.S. Senate vote he needs to pass a health care overhaul.

Kirk served on Edward Kennedy’s staff for eight years and is chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s board of directors. He also has been a registered lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies.

Kennedy’s sons, Edward Kennedy Jr. and U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., both lobbied for Kirk in separate phone calls to the governor, according to a family confidant and a Patrick aide. The governor scheduled a late-morning news conference at the Statehouse to declare his choice, and aides would not rule out the attendance of Vicki Kennedy, the senator’s widow, as a sign of the family’s approval.

Kennedy died last month of brain cancer, and an appointee will serve until a permanent successor is chosen through a special election scheduled for Jan. 19. The appointment will restore a critical 60th Democratic vote in the U.S. Senate as President Barack Obama pushes to pass a health care overhaul that was Kennedy’s life passion.

On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Legislature approved a bill allowing the governor to make an interim appointment after a contentious debate and a whirl of parliamentary maneuvering.

Patrick planned to send a letter to the secretary of state to declare an emergency, allowing him to override a legislative vote that defeated his administration’s effort to make the bill take effect immediately. Normally, legislation faces a 90-day waiting period.

“I recognize the gravity of this decision and I will make it very soon, and tell you just as soon as I do,” the governor told reporters Wednesday night.

The 71-year-old Kirk, a Boston attorney, was close friends with the senator. He and his wife, Gail, live on Cape Cod, and he was among the few regular visitors allowed at Kennedy’s Hyannis Port home before he succumbed to a malignant brain tumor on Aug. 25.

Kirk knows the senator’s staff intimately and would likely be assured of their loyalty given his relationship with Kennedy.

A senior statesman who has never served in political office, Kirk wouldn’t pose a threat to the candidates competing in the special election. The Democratic field includes Attorney General Martha Coakley, vying to be the state’s first female senator, and U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, the lone member of the state’s congressional delegation in the race.

A Kennedy family confidant, who like the Patrick aide requested anonymity to speak about private conversations, refused to reveal whether Vicki Kennedy had also endorsed Kirk. Vicki Kennedy has granted no interviews since her husband’s death, but Patrick revealed recently that she had told him she did not want to be considered for the interim appointment.

On Wednesday, he added: “I have talked to Vicki Kennedy multiple times, before the senator’s loss and since.”

Kirk has been assisting with efforts to raise money for a Senate institute named for Kennedy. Organizers have been criticized for accepting donations from the health care industry while Kennedy and the White House push for an industry overhaul.

Federal records show Kirk registered as a lobbyist a decade ago. While Kirk would be banned from lobbying for two years after his appointment ends, he would retain Senate floor privileges, the honorific title “senator” and a coveted Capitol Hill parking space for life.

Democrats had revoked the governor’s power to fill Senate vacancies in 2004, fearing then-Gov. Mitt Romney might appoint a fellow Republican if Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., won his campaign for the presidency. Instead, they created a five-month special election campaign and beat back GOP efforts both that year and in 2006 to bridge any such vacancy with a temporary senatorial appointment.

On Aug. 20, five days before he died, Kennedy sent Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo letters urging them to amend the succession law to allow an interim replacement. His death has deprived the Democrats of their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate amid Obama’s health care push.

Patrick later said the senator had made a “reasonable request,” given the health care debate and upcoming Senate votes on climate change and economic recovery legislation.

While in Massachusetts there are only 16 Republicans in the 160-member House and five in the 40-member Senate, Wednesday’s votes were far less lopsided — highlighting the political turmoil created by Kennedy’s request. The House vote against the emergency preamble that would have made the bill take effect immediately was 95-59, when a two-thirds vote of both chambers was needed to approve it. And the votes on the final bill were an identical 95-59 in the House and 24-16 in the Senate.

According to the state constitution, the governor can bypass the two-thirds requirement merely by sending a letter to the secretary of state declaring “the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety or convenience requires that such law should take effect forthwith.”

Patrick has argued the state stands to suffer without full Senate representation before the special election campaign, but some of his fellow Democrats have joined Republicans in accusing him of a power grab.

“This is not an emergency,” said Rep. Paul Frost, R-Auburn. “So however the governor is going to write a letter to the secretary of state, saying the Legislature didn’t agree it was an emergency, but I do, I can’t wait to see it.”

Four House Republicans, all attorneys, wrote Patrick a letter urging him to seek a ruling from the Supreme Judicial Court before signing the bill.

Kirk graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School and served on Kennedy’s staff between 1969 and 1977. He ran the Democratic National Committee in the run-up to former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis’ unsuccessful run for president in 1988.

Kirk also co-founded the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has sponsored every presidential and vice presidential debate involving major candidates since 1988.

He now serves as chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. He was in the national spotlight last month when he hosted a memorial service the evening before Kennedy’s funeral.

Kirk also is close to Caroline Kennedy, who serves as president of the library foundation honoring her late father. He stood on the stage with her and the late senator each year as they dispensed the library’s annual “Profiles in Courage” awards.

Asked recently whether he would be interested in an interim appointment, Kirk told The Associated Press in an e-mail, “It would be much too presumptuous of me to even consider. Hope you will understand.”

Dukakis was among those also said to be under consideration. He, too, declined to comment on the question.

Associated Press Writers Steve LeBlanc and Jay Lindsay contributed to this report.

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