HAPPY Chappaquiddick Day! This is the silver anniversary...

July 18, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

HAPPY Chappaquiddick Day! This is the silver anniversary of the most infamous sex-crime-politics scandal in American history.

I assume all of you know what happened 25 years ago today. But maybe not. After all, there are millions of newspaper readers who weren't even born yet that midnight when Sen. Ted Kennedy drove off the Dyke Bridge and into a pond on Chappaquiddick Island with a young woman not his wife, Mary Jo Kopechne, and left her to drown, then tried to cover it all up.

He got off with a short suspended sentence for leaving the scene of an accident -- but it cost him the presidency, or at the very least the Democratic nomination for the presidency.

Senator Kennedy is up for re-election this year, and for the first time in his long career, he's running scared. He has been elected six times, and except for the first time in 1962, he has never gotten less than 61 percent of the vote. Yet he began a campaign advertising blitz this month. He usually doesn't worry about it till October.

He has already raised about double the amount of money for campaign purposes that he did six years ago, and he has enlisted 4,570 campaign workers, 15 times the number of 1988. He is so worried that he even used his televised eulogy to Jacqueline Onassis to get in a campaign plug.

And, yes, Chappaquiddick may be an issue. Mitt Romney, his likely Republican opponent, said last month that if Kennedy keeps using "personal attacks" on him, "I will respond, I will be tough, absolutely!" He said that to newspaper editorial writers, who had asked him specifically if Chappaquiddick would be an issue.

By the way, the personal attack Romney was referring to was Kennedy's making Romney's personal wealth an issue!!

Perhaps greater threats to Kennedy than Chappaquiddick are his age and his seniority. Not only are there a lot of newspaper readers who weren't born before Chappaquiddick Day, there are a lot of Massachusetts voters who weren't.

When Senator Kennedy delivered the commencement address at Mt. Wachusett Community College in Massachusetts recently, a student, said to a reporter, "Kennedy. He's in the state house, right?" And another said: "That old guy's been in the Senate longer than I've been alive. I mean, in a democratic society, a president's limited to two terms. But Kennedy's been in there for 30 years. I mean, like all his life."

About half his life, actually. To be precise, he's 63 years, four months, 23 days old, and he's been in there for 31 years, eight months, 11 days. He set a new longevity record for Massachusetts senators last week.

He's proud of that, and would like to be known only for his career, but he will always be the senator from Chappaquiddick. Dyke Bridge is abandoned and off the beaten path, but during the summer about 50 tourists a day come take a look.

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