(Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
Governor Deval Patrick today named Paul G. Kirk Jr. to serve as interim US senator, making the announcement in the presence of the immediate family of the late Edward M. Kennedy.
"He is a distinguished lawyer, volunteer, and citizen, and he shares the sense of service that so distinguished Senator Ted Kennedy," Patrick said at a news conference at the State House. "Paul will not seek the open seat in the special election coming up in January. But for the next few months, he will carry on the work and the focus of Senator Kennedy, mindful of his mission, and his values, and his love of Massachusetts."
The late senator's widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, and one of his sons, Ted Kennedy Jr., watched from the audience as Patrick introduced his selection.
"This appointment is a profound honor," Kirk said. "I accept it with sincere humility."
Kirk, a longtime Kennedy family friend, reiterated that he would not run in the special election and said he planned to keep the late senator's staff.
The governor signed the legislation earlier this morning that gave him the power to appoint an interim senator and sent a letter to the secretary of state so the law could take effect right away. Republicans sought an injunction today in Suffolk Superior Court challenging Patrick's authority to make the appointment immediately.
"It's very clearly available to the governor under the Constitution," said Secretary of State William F. Galvin. "I don’t know how you suggest this is something novel, it's not."
Former Republican Governor Mitt Romney used the emergency provision 14 times, Galvin added, including to increase the boating speed limit in Charlton and to change the office of town moderator in Milton.
In Washington, Senate majority leader Harry Reid's office said that Kirk will be sworn in at 3:15 p.m. on Friday.
"I am pleased that Massachusetts will have its full representation in the United States Senate in the coming months, as important issues such as health care, financial reform, and energy will be debated," President Obama said in a statement. "Paul Kirk is a distinguished leader, whose long collaboration with Senator Kennedy makes him an excellent, interim choice to carry on his work until the voters make their choice in January."
Before the formal announcement, video from inside the governor's office showed Kirk and Patrick sitting in armchairs in front of a fireplace. Kirk's wife, Gail, sat on a sofa with Ted Kennedy Jr. On another sofa sat Vicki Kennedy and US Senator John F. Kerry.
"We can't get you down there soon enough," Kerry told Kirk, referring to the US Senate. "Tomorrow?"
Kirk, 71, served as master of ceremonies at Kennedy’s memorial service the night before the funeral last month. An attorney who now lives on Cape Cod, Kirk worked as a special assistant to Senator Kennedy from 1969 to 1977 and is currently the chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. He is familiar with many on Kennedy’s former staff and could help smooth the transition.
Kirk was registered as a lobbyist a decade ago. He was paid $35,000 to represent the pharmaceutical company Hoechst Marion Roussel on legislation before the US Senate in 1999, according to federal disclosure records. He is currently on the board of directors of the Hartford Insurance Group.
For weeks, it has been clear that the interim appointment is not a choice that Patrick relished. Some advisers and observers believed that, whoever he chose, he would anger key elements of the Democratic establishment. Patrick's campaign team sent out an e-mail this morning with a series of talking points outlining why Kirk is "an excellent choice, among other excellent choices the governor considered."
"Paul understands deeply the strong commitment to constituent service that Sen. Kennedy displayed and has indicated this will be a top priority for him over the next few months," said the e-mail, adding, "He is thoughtful, smart and well-liked by Massachusetts community and civic leaders as well as national leaders."
Patrick appeared to be trying to shore up support behind Kirk, in an attempt to avoid conflict with those who were strongly pushing former Governor Michael Dukakis for the post.
Patrick gained the power to appoint a temporary senator on Wednesday, with the Massachusetts Legislature giving final approval to a controversial bill that changes the state’s election law for the second time in five years. The change allowed Patrick to appoint someone to Kennedy’s seat until a special election is held Jan. 19.
Republican candidate for governor Christy Mihos criticized the appointment as he joined other Republicans challenging Patrick's authority to make the law take effect immediately.
"Adding insult to injury, Governor Patrick has ended this sordid political drama on Beacon Hill through granting high office by declaring an emergency," Mihos said in a statement. "The emergency in the Commonwealth right now is due to a sinking economy and a state house where ethical standards have plummeted during Deval Patrick's leadership. Someone should tell the governor where the real fire is."
The head of the Massachusetts Republican Party, Jennifer A. Nassour, sent a letter to Secretary of State William F. Galvin to reject immediate enactment of the law.
Supporters of the bill failed to muster enough votes to include an emergency provision that would make the law effective immediately. The governor exercised his authority to implement the law immediately upon his signature by sending a procedural letter to the secretary of state. Four House Republicans sent a letter last night asking the Supreme Judicial Court to issue an advisory opinion on whether Patrick has the power to put the law in place immediately, though Galvin said that has been relatively routine.
Before announcing the selection, Patrick conferred in recent days with a small group of his closest advisers, including Doug Rubin, his campaign strategist and former chief of staff; Arthur Bernard, his current chief of staff; John Walsh, chairman of the state Democratic Party; and William M. Cowen, an attorney at Mintz Levin and a close confidant.
But the governor got an earful from well beyond his inner circle. He has fielded phone calls from a wide array of competing political interests eager to influence his decision.
The choice of Kirk could alienate a core group of Patrick’s supporters who remain loyal to Dukakis. The former governor had been filling out paperwork as part of the vetting process by Patrick advisers, according to a second person familiar with the process.
Patrick faced lobbying on Dukakis’s behalf from political associates of the onetime presidential candidate, erstwhile members of his inner circle, and party activists, all of whom make up a part of the Democratic Party that was central to Patrick’s 2006 campaign and, according to some analysts, would be very important to his struggling reelection bid.
Patrick “needs to have those people feel enthusiastic about his reelection,’’ said Democratic strategist Dan Payne, who worked for Dukakis campaigns in the 1980s. “If he doesn’t choose Dukakis, they will sit on their hands, and he can’t afford that.’’
Some Kennedy insiders who support Kirk’s appointment, though, have argued that Dukakis is too outspoken on health care issues, espousing liberal positions that could complicate Democrats’ attempts in Washington to moderate their approach on the legislation.
Joseph Williams of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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