'A Fierce Advocate'

Md. Officials Recall Kennedy As A Friend And Inspiration

August 27, 2009|By Paul West | Paul West,paul.west@baltsun.com

Maryland officials joined in mourning Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, with many describing him as irreplaceable and some expressing hope that his death might help revive a faltering Democratic effort to overhaul the nation's health care system.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a co-chair of Kennedy's 1980 presidential campaign who would later serve with him in the Senate for 22 years, described the Massachusetts Democrat as a loyal friend who was "modest about himself."

At one of the high points of Kennedy's life, his speech at the 1980 Democratic National Convention, it was Mikulski who introduced him to the crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York.

In a lengthy statement after his death, the Maryland Democrat described her colleague as "a fierce and determined advocate for women and for equality."

His niece, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the eldest of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's 11 children, is among the best-known of the family's Maryland members. She served as lieutenant governor from 1995 to 2003 in the administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening and was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2002, losing to Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

In a public statement, the Kennedy family described the senator, who died late Tuesday, as "the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply" and "the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives."

Kennedy died two weeks after his elder sister, Eunice, who was married to R. Sargent Shriver Jr. of Maryland and made her home in Potomac. Their son Mark Shriver served two terms in the Maryland House of Delegates, from 1995 to 2003.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who defeated Mark Shriver in the 2002 Democratic congressional primary, called Kennedy a "tenacious fighter for working men and women who share the belief that America is the greatest country in the world."

Rep. John Sarbanes of Baltimore said Kennedy "had a way of articulating what a better America would look like." Sarbanes said Democrats in Congress would now rededicate themselves to the fight for expanded access to health care that Kennedy long championed.

"There will be a sense of wanting to complete this mission that he was on for decades," Sarbanes said.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said Kennedy's memory "may very well help those of us" surmount impasses in crafting a health care measure. But he said it would be "very tough" to replace Kennedy, who "was truly unique."

Kennedy's life was not without controversy, most notably a late-night auto accident in 1969 that killed Mary Jo Kopechne, a 28-year-old former campaign worker for Kennedy's brother, Robert, who drowned after the senator drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island. Kennedy, who did not report the accident until the next day, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month suspended sentence.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said the message Kennedy delivered at the funeral of his assassinated brother, Robert, in 1968 also applied to the senator. Reciting the eulogy lines from memory, Hoyer said Ted Kennedy "need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."

Hoyer, in an interview, said that Kennedy's ability to sell legislative compromises to fellow liberals in Congress was "almost irreplaceable."

"Nobody has the stature in the Congress that Ted Kennedy had," Hoyer said. But he said it is probably unrealistic to think that the emotions triggered by Kennedy's death would make a major difference in the health care fight.

Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat who served with Kennedy for 30 years in the Senate, was traveling in Greece when he received the news. Sarbanes, who retired in 2006, called Kennedy "a dear friend and an inspirational colleague."

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, called Kennedy "an inspiration to us all" and "a true American hero."

"For decades, Senator Kennedy has been a stalwart in our community, fighting for our children, for our seniors and for the best interests of millions of families across the nation," Cummings said in a statement.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, who got campaign help from Kennedy in unseating Ehrlich in 2006, offered condolences to the Kennedy, Shriver and Townsend families.

The Democratic governor, citing Irish poet John O'Donohue, said Kennedy embodied the ideal of compassion. He praised Kennedy for his ability to forge consensus and for his work on some of the most historic social justice initiatives of his time, such as health care, and said the senator "worked very, very hard on his calling, his discipline, his craft."

Republican National Chairman Michael S. Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor, offered condolences.

Steele said he was saddened to learn of Kennedy's death. "For close to five decades, Senator Ted Kennedy followed in his family's long tradition and served his country with great distinction. His legacy should serve as an inspiration to anyone interested in public service."

Baltimore Sun reporter Laura Smitherman contributed to this article.

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