|By G. Michael Dobbs|
As you read this column it will have been several days since the passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy and an end to an era in politics both Massachusetts and the nation.
I cannot say that I ever, as a print reporter, radio talk show host or a citizen of the Commonwealth, had much contact with the senior senator.
I was only twice in the presence of the senator once covering a visit to Holyoke and once when I was employed at Western New England College. My perceptions were largely based on what was carried in the press over his long career. Granted, his life was one of turmoil some self-inflicted sadness and achievement.
Although I certainly had my philosophical differences with some of his stands and actions, as a proponent of health insurance reform, I think it is truly profound that movement has lost one of its principal leaders at a time in which it needs him the most.
When there is so much legitimate fear and great disinformation about health insurance, people such as Kennedy are needed.
So while I'm inadequate to write about Kennedy from a personal perspective, my friend and noted political consultant Tony Cignoli is not. He sent me the following and I've reprinted it with his permission.
"The passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy has international interest and grand impact for the nation and in Washington. Here, in Western Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy's passing has special poignancy and meaning.
"Ted Kennedy and his extraordinary staff are legendary for their recognition that Massachusetts does not stop at 495, as many folks west of Worcester often lament. His office's efforts for his constituents are legendary, having served tens if not hundreds of thousands of people with problems.
"His many trips to Springfield and Pittsfield, Tanglewood, Great Barrington and Lenox; his understanding and support for economic development in challenged urban communities like Holyoke, Chicopee and Springfield: his clarion call for the cleanup of the Connecticut River and his love and support of the small community hospitals here will be a part of his special Western Massachusetts legacy.
"Two years ago, I had the unique opportunity to ask him for a favor for Springfield, Massachusetts, through his close friend and aide from West Springfield, Don Dowd. Twentieth Century Fox was launching 'The Simpsons Movie.' All the Springfields in the United States were invited to make their respective cases in a national contest as to why their Springfield should be named as the Springfield characterized in the Simpsons cartoon.
"Don called the Senator's aide, Jay McCarthy. We made the case that we needed Teddy to make a cameo appearance in our Springfield's video entry in the contest. I was terrified that he would take offense to a tongue-in-cheek participation that we knew would get national airing and interest. It was known that the fictional mayor in the Simpsons cartoon was a bit of a spoof on the Senator.
"As a political consultant, I probably would have advised any of my political clients not to take a chance like this. Ted Kennedy knew that this was an opportunity to promote a community in his state, to get some national attention for a challenged urban community.
"In thirty minutes, we had an answer. Ted would do it. One of the most powerful men in America was willing to make fun of himself to support his Springfield, Springfield, Massachusetts. Teddy's kindness got international attention for Springfield, Massachusetts, from the ABC Evening News, MSNBC to the BBC.
"At a breakfast in Lenox a few years ago, I was stunned to sit at his table. John Williams of the Boston Pops was with us. As soon as Mrs. Kennedy left to see some folks across the terrace, he leaned over to Williams and whispered, 'John, before she comes back, be a great pal and slip me a few more pancakes.'
He loved the small community hospitals of Massachusetts and knew the struggle of those health facilities here in Western Massachusetts so well. Perhaps this was because he spent so much time convalescing at Cooley-Dickenson Hospital in Northampton after a plane crash in 1964. He was heading to Springfield for the 1964 Democratic State Convention. His small plane crashed in Southampton. It was at Cooley-Dickenson that his broken back was repaired.
"His closeness with Sr. Mary Caritas, former CEO of the Sisters of Providence Health Systems, gave him a unique perspective on a Western Massachusetts hospital system that serves a needy and challenged urban population. From Mercy Hospital to Providence Hospital and Brightside, Kennedy understood the need for the unique services provided to folks in Western Massachusetts who have nowhere else to seek mental health or substance abuse treatment.
"He was the world-renowned U.S. Senator who never forgot the cities and towns of Western Massachusetts where his constituents had a unique connection with him."
This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to Reminderpublications.com or to 280 N. Main St.,East Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.
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