U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., said he’s “absolutely” convinced that Kerry, who was elected in 1984, could eventually grow into an expanded role as the state’s champion on Capitol Hill. But he cautioned it would take time.
Kennedy’s presidential ambitions, Capuano recalled, were front and center until he failed to wrest the Democratic nomination from Jimmy Carter in 1980. Since then, Kennedy has turned his attention to becoming an influential legislator on issues like health care and civil rights, while also flexing his political muscle in Congress on behalf of Massachusetts, Capuano said.
“I don’t think it’s any disrespect at all to say that Ted Kennedy is one of a kind,” Capuano said. “That being the case, it takes time to grow into that. Ted Kennedy wasn’t the lion of the Senate when he was just coming into the Senate, or even when he was there for 20 years.”
Kennedy has worked hard to hone his legislative skills over the years, Capuano said, building the kind of extensive network of personal and political relationships that pave the way for success in the clubby world of the Senate. Given time, Kerry can do the same, he said.
“It’s a function of ability and seniority — and those two things often go hand in hand,” Capuano said. “You have to learn the system. You pay attention. You get comfortable. You build a reputation. You build relationships. Those things, they usually take time.”
Kennedy has helped secure hundreds of millions of federal dollars over the years for Massachusetts interests, including colleges, hospitals, community health centers, highways, bridges, mass transit projects, veterans facilities, renewable energy companies and biotech firms. Presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain recently praised Kennedy as “the single most effective member of the Senate.”
As chairman of the powerful Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Kennedy spearheads two issues vital to the state’s many hospitals and colleges: health care reform and increasing education aid.
“He’s probably one of our main economic engines in the region,” said Jim Brett, president of the New England Council, a regional business organization.
A prime example was Kennedy’s successful push in recent years to double funding for biomedical research, an increase that boosted labs, hospitals and universities across not just Massachusetts, but New England as well, said Brett.
“We’re the leader here in New England on biomedical research and Kennedy’s been the longtime champion for it,” said Brett.
Kennedy followed in the footsteps of a Massachusetts political legend, former House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, who was well known for taking care of his home state before retiring in 1987. Before O’Neill, it was South Boston’s John McCormack who delivered for the state while serving as House speaker from 1962 to 1971.
Kennedy probably stands as the last of a breed, said Nuzzo.
“For the past 50 years, we’ve had a succession of really powerful figures on Capitol Hill who have looked out for us,” Nuzzo said. “And Kennedy is the last warhorse.”
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