- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday named longtime Kennedy family adviser Paul G. Kirk, Jr. to temporarily fill the seat of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, less than 24 hours after the Democratic-run state legislature gave him the statutory authority to make an appointment.

Mr. Patrick, a Democrat, chose Mr. Kirk after being urged to do so by the late senator’s widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, and his sons, Edward Jr. and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island.

Mr. Kirk, a former top aide and loyal confidant to the senator, will give Democrats - if they remain united - enough votes to halt an expected Republican-led filibuster against President Obama’s health care overhaul.

A special election is set for Jan. 19 but Mr. Kirk, 71, said he would not seek the seat in his own right.

“This appointment is a profound honor and I accept it with sincere humility,” Mr. Kirk said at a press conference at the State House in Boston. “As the governor said, and just so you hear it from me, consistent with Senator Kennedy’s wishes and the expectations of the governor and the legislators, I shall not be a candidate in the special election for the United States Senate.”

Mr. Patrick was lobbied strongly by Democratic leaders in Congress to give them the additional vote they might need to help them pass health care reform. Earlier this week, the state Senate approved a measure to change Massachusetts’ election law and allow the appointment of an interim U.S. senator.

“The issues before the Congress and the nation are simply too important to Massachusetts for us to be one voice short,” Mr. Patrick said. “Paul was the close and loyal adviser and confident to Senator Kennedy from 1969 to 1977 formally, but ever since really.”

Mr. Kirk, a former Democratic National Committee chairman who was a strategist in the senator’s unsuccessful 1980 presidential campaign, has been an intimate figure in the Kennedy family’s affairs. He has served as the chairman of the board of directors at the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and, it was revealed Thursday, is the executor of Mr. Kennedy’s will.

“Sen. Kennedy and Paul were close friends and they worked together for many years,” the Kennedy family said in a statement. “Side by side they fought many battles for progress and social justice, and nothing could be more fitting than for Paul now to carry on that fight.”

Sen. John Kerry, now the state’s senior senator, also praised the decision at the press conference, saying, “This is a caretaker appointment - a gentle and difficult transition - a kind of stewardship. And Paul Kirk will be a superb steward of this seat.”

Recent polls show that the clear front-runner in the Dec. 8 Democratic primary is state Attorney General Martha Coakley. A poll conducted by Suffolk University last week showed her with 47 percent of the vote, with her nearest competitor, Rep. Michael Capuano, at 9 percent.

In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by three-to-one, Democratic strategists say that whoever wins their party primary will win the special election. State Sen. Scott Brown is the only major Republican candidate to enter the race. The Suffolk poll showed Ms. Coakley leading him by 54 percent to 24 percent.

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