Democrats in Washington quickly welcomed the newest US senator, who could provide a crucial vote on a host of contentious issues.
Governor Deval Patrick's announced this morning that he has selected Paul G. Kirk Jr. to serve as the interim senator from Massachusetts, a choice that comes with the strong backing 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 press conference at the State House. "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."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office said that Kirk will be sworn in at 3:15 p.m. EDT on Friday. Kirk will take the oath of office on the Senate floor by Vice President Joe Biden, then the ceremony will be reenacted in the old Senate chamber, Reid's office told the Globe.
Kirk said he will not be a candidate in the special election on Jan. 19, and said he was honored to be selected.
Patrick said that Massachusetts should not go without a second vote and voice in the Senate until the special election in January, given the many issues such as health care, climate change, and financial regulation that are to be debated.
President Obama, who is counting on the vote on health care, said he was "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.
"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," Obama added in a statement.
Obama's grassroots political group sent out an email thanking supporters in Massachusetts and elsewhere for calling their legislators to lobby for the bill allowing Patrick's appointment.
"Paul Kirk will be a great senator, fighting alongside John Kerry for all of Massachusetts -- but it couldn't have happened without your help," wrote Mitch Stewart, national director of Organizing for America.
"Your calls and messages to the state legislature played a pivotal role in ensuring that your state has full representation in the Senate until January's special election," he added. Many of your legislators took courageous stands to ensure full representation -- can you please look up their information at the link below, and thank them if they voted to allow this appointment?"
Reid also praised the choice of Kirk. “Ted Kennedy’s impact will endure for the life of this body and his values will continue to serve as a guiding principle for those of us who served with him. But as Senator Kennedy would say, ‘the work goes on,’ and today’s news of Paul Kirk’s appointment ensures that the commonwealth of Massachusetts will have an effective advocate as they await the results of the special election in January," Reid said in a statement.
“As a former staffer and associate of Sen. Kennedy and member of the board of directors for the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Paul Kirk embodies the values of Sen. Kennedy. He also has a long-standing appreciation of the issues that matter to the great people of Massachusetts. I look forward to welcoming Mr. Kirk as he works with Sen. Kerry to represent Massachusetts in the Senate.
“Governor Patrick made a wise, thoughtful choice by naming Paul Kirk as an interim successor to Sen. Kennedy. I also appreciate the diligent work of the Massachusetts Senate and House leadership for understanding the importance of securing full representation for Massachusetts in the United States Senate.”
The sentiment was echoed by Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a position Kirk held from 1985 to 1989:
“One month ago tomorrow we lost one of our nation’s most revered legislators and leaders. The Lion of the Senate and soul of the Democratic Party, Ted Kennedy was a champion for health care and public education, the environment and the rights of workers. He was a forceful spokesman and passionate advocate for Democratic causes.
“Senator Kennedy’s legacy will forever live on in the tenants of our Party’s principles and in our hearts, and we will continue to draw inspiration from his memory, but today we welcome a new senator from Massachusetts.
“Paul G. Kirk, Jr. served as a long-time aide to Senator Kennedy and as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. His commitment to the Democratic Party and lifetime of experience, coupled with his long friendship and service to Senator Kennedy and the entire Kennedy family, makes him a wise choice. I congratulate the Massachusetts legislature for taking swift action to ensure the Bay State has full representation in the United States Congress and commend Governor Patrick on what must have been a very difficult decision, given the difficult circumstances.
“Right now Congress is wrestling and debating issues that will fundamentally affect the future of our country: health reform, energy reform, climate change and the regulation of our financial system. Though this is the first time in 46 years Massachusetts will not have a senator named Kennedy, interim-Senator Kirk will proudly serve in the Kennedy tradition. He will join Senator John Kerry in making sure the people of Massachusetts have their say in some of the most important issues of our time.
“We welcome interim-Senator Kirk back to Washington and looking forward to working together over the next several months.”
But Rob Jesmer, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, slammed the appointment of what he called an "unelected senator."
“The Democrats’ power play in Massachusetts has nothing to do with principle, and everything to do with politics," Jesmer said in a statement. "With their unpopular government-run health care bill on the brink of failure, Democrats in Washington desperately need another vote in the U.S. Senate, and it is clear that this Administration will stop at nothing to ram it through the Congress. By meddling in the affairs of state politics just weeks after promising to leave it up to the elected Massachusetts officials, Democrat leaders in Washington have demonstrated a willingness to put partisan politics over principle, a far cry from candidate Obama’s pledge to change the way business is done in Washington.”
Kirk, 71, is a longtime Kennedy friend and former staff member, a man so close to the family he was chosen 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.
Senator John F. Kerry, who attended the announcement, said while not an easy decision, Kirk will be a "superb steward" for the seat. (His full prepared remarks are below.)
Representative Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts said in a statement: “I congratulate my friend Paul Kirk on his appointment to the Senate and commend Gov. Patrick for his outstanding choice,” said Markey. “From climate change to the Employee Free Choice Act to health care--the cause of Sen. Kennedy’s life—the issues pending in the Senate are simply too important to have anything less than full representation for the Commonwealth.”
“I have known Paul for many years and he is a dedicated public servant. He will serve the people of Massachusetts with honor and distinction and will continue the work of his trusted friend, Ted Kennedy. Kirk’s appointment will ensure that the excellent work Sen. Kennedy’s staff has done for the citizens of Massachusetts will continue.”
Andy Stern, president of the powerful Service Employees International Union, said in a statement that Kirk "will be a strong voice for the hard working families and communities of the Commonwealth."
"Massachusetts needed more than a placeholder in the U.S. Senate and the Governor has given his citizens a leader who will get to work fighting for the change working families need on healthcare reform, rebuilding our economy, and providing new financial protections for consumers,” Stern added.
New AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka also counted Kirk as an ally.
"Never before has it been more important for our elected representatives to be vocal warriors for working family issues and with Paul Kirk's appointment, working people get another ardent supporter. Paul Kirk has enormous shoes to fill as the replacement to Sen. Kennedy but working people in Massachusetts and across the country are confident that he will live up to Sen. Kennedy's legacy," Trumka said in a statement.
"The appointment couldn't come at a more critical time - - as Washington soldiers on to create health care reform and fight against big business and the insurance industry who are so opposed to change. We congratulate the Mass. Senate and the House in taking decisive action, and the working people of Massachusetts who mobilized to call on leaders to ensure that Massachusetts would be fully represented."
The late senator's widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, told the governor that she preferred Kirk, according to a Kennedy family associate. Kennedy’s two sons, US Representative Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island and Edward M. Kennedy Jr., have also told Patrick that Kirk is their first choice.
The Kennedy family issued a statement of support today:
"Today is a wonderful day for the people of Massachusetts and the country. We are enormously thankful to Governor Patrick, Senate President Murray, Speaker DeLeo and all of the members of the Massachusetts Senate and House who worked to assure that the people of the Commonwealth have two senators during this interim period before the special election on January 19, 2010. Governor Patrick could not have selected a more outstanding person to serve as Massachusetts's interim senator than Paul Kirk.
"Senator Kennedy always said that serving the people of Massachusetts in the United States Senate was the greatest honor of his life. He would be so pleased that Paul Kirk will also now have that honor. Senator Kennedy and Paul were close friends and they worked together for many years, starting with Paul's tenure on the Senator's staff in Washington four decades ago. 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. As the former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the Co-Chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Paul is well-known and respected by the men and women who will be his new colleagues. When he is sworn in as the Junior Senator from Massachusetts, Paul will hit the ground running, and that's an enormous benefit for the people of Massachusetts.
"With today’s appointment of Paul Kirk, the people of Massachusetts will once again have two voices and two votes in the United States Senate, fighting for them each and every day on the issues they care about."
But the choice of Kirk could alienate a core group of Patrick’s supporters who remain loyal to former Governor Michael 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.
“Governor Patrick, I think we all agree that the mark of a good Chief Executive isn't just making the difficult decisions, but getting them right. We are blessed in Massachusetts to have an enduring surplus of political and civic talent. There are a number of highly qualified people the Governor could have appointed. This was no easy call. But I believe the choice the Governor has made is completely in keeping with the intent of the change in the law by the legislature and the intent of all of us who advocated for the changes, including Senator Kennedy. This is a caretaker appointment, a gentle transition, a kind of stewardship -- and Paul Kirk will be a superb steward of this seat. Governor Patrick found the person for this moment and did what's in the best interests of our state.
“I also want to thank Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Murray, without whose leadership and legislative skill the forces of taking the easiest route and the path of political least resistance wouldve prevailed, and this day would never have come. Like Ted Kennedy, they weren't afraid to sail into the political winds and do what's right for Massachusetts.
“And none of us here today forget the fact that Ted Kennedy spent the final weeks of his life just as he had spent his life in the Senate looking out for Massachusetts. He reminded us that it was “vital for this Commonwealth to have two voices speaking for the needs of its citizens and two votes in the Senate” - especially in these times. He asked us to act, not for him, but for Massachusetts, and we did.
“Vicki, Teddy Jr, and Patrick keep his memory alive --and understand that Paul Kirk shares Ted's love of this state and this country as well as his passion for public service. And they well understood we’re facing an historic moment in this country, the most critical legislative work in Washington since the New Deal - work in which every vote will count and in which Massachusetts must be fully counted.
“In that work, Paul Kirk will ensure Massachusetts has a voice and a steward in these next months. Paul never ran for public office, but he’ll hit the ground running in the Senate with a familiarity with the Teddy’s Senate staff, a command of all the issues, an understanding of the politics at play in Washington, and with such a kinship with Teddy’s public values.
“But more than that, he understands that public service is a higher calling and that we have a responsibility to carry on. This is not the first time that the passing of a Kennedy brother brought Paul back into service to his state. After Robert Kennedy’s assassination, Paul was ready to quit politics but after Ted told him he had a responsibility to fight on, he signed on to Teddy’s staff in 1969 and became one of Teddy’s most important advisers, a role he continued even after he left the Senate staff in 1977 through Teddy's final days. And it was during Paul’s tenure on Teddy’s Senate staff that Paul was first drawn into the debate over health care and drawn in with passion. He will represent Massachusetts now in the fight to make Teddy's life's work a reality.
“It wasn’t always politics that pulled Ted and Paul together, however. It was a deep and abiding friendship between these two great men. They celebrated Thanksgivings together with their families or the weekends of the Harvard-Yale football games or, in recent months, long visits of shared reminiscing. It is no wonder that in his memoirs, Teddy refers to Paul as “my dear friend.”
“All of us were touched these last weeks to see Teddy's desk in the Senate, adorned with his favorite flowers and a simple cherished poem by Robert Frost, Teddy's favorite. But the selection of Paul to replace his friend in the Senate brings to mind a line from one of Frost’s other poems. Frost wrote:
“Men work together,” I told him from the heart, “whether they work together or apart.”
“Teddy and Paul worked together for much of their lives, and even though they are apart now I have no doubt that they will still be working together in the United States Senate -- working together for Massachusetts.”
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.