State Dems pay tribute to Kennedy

By Janet Simons
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Sen. Ted Kennedy spent most of the day on Aug. 25, 2008, in a bed at the University of Colorado Hospital.

“He’d endured a sleepless night after his arrival in Denver and fought off the effects of the altitude only to have the excruciating pain of a mysterious new ailment stop his last-ditch dream in its tracks,” writes native Coloradan Vincent Bzdek in The Kennedy Legacy: Jack, Bobby and Ted and a Family Dream Fulfilled (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2009).

The former Denver Post deputy managing editor opens his book with a detailed account of that uncertain summer day, which, by some kind of cosmic coincidence, turned out to be a year to the day before Kennedy’s death in Hyannis Port.

The physicians at University Hospital feared that Kennedy’s pain was a side effect of his secret flight to Denver, “because the pressurized air in the plane cabin can wreak all kinds of havoc on the immune system of a weakened body.”

As it turned out, however, the pain was from kidney stones — which, by themselves, could easily have kept him off the podium.

“Kennedy was treated for the kidney condition early Monday, the day of the speech, but the pain didn’t abate right away,” Bzdek writes. “At about 5 p.m., two hours before the speech was scheduled, family and friends were not at all sure he had the strength to give it. Kennedy still ‘just wasn’t feeling well,’ and ‘there was a second round [of discussion] about “is he going to be able to do it?” Caroline Kennedy said. Kennedy finally told his wife that he was going to deliver the speech regardless. He rested until the last possible moment, then got up out of his hospital bed at 5:15 and rode by ambulance to the Pepsi Center.”

Bzdek’s title for that prologue, “The Last Hurrah,” turned out to be prophetic. Kennedy’s surprise appearance before the Democratic National Convention was his last public speech, and it sealed an emotional bond with the Democrats of Colorado that many recalled in the affectionate tributes that poured in at the news of his death.

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“Today Colorado joins the nation in mourning the loss of Sen. Ted Kennedy, a tireless advocate for those who live on the margins.

“His unparalleled dedication to improve civil rights, health care and the plight of working families has left an indelible mark on the country and Colorado. As one of America’s most eloquent, determined and intelligent leaders, Sen. Kennedy was an inspiration to public servants everywhere.

“I will forever be inspired by the words he spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Colorado on Aug. 25, 2008, exactly one year before his death: ‘The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on.’” — Gov. Bill Ritter

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“Ted Kennedy leaves a legacy of great accomplishment and extraordinary leadership. He was a dedicated public servant, a master legislator and, above all, a fighter for economic and social justice. The Senate will miss the rare combination of idealism and pragmatism he brought to advancing the causes he held dear.”
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet

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“The arc of Ted Kennedy’s life touched every progressive cause for nearly half a century. Whether it was civil rights or health care, eliminating poverty or pollution, Ted brought fire and passion to every cause he championed. What made him an effective senator and a great leader, however, was his essential pragmatism. At its best, politics is a people business, where bridging differences matters. Ted Kennedy was not just a crusader for great causes, he was also a champion of compromise.

“My thoughts and prayers are with Vicki, Sen. Kennedy’s children and his entire family.”
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall

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“The nation has lost a true champion for the poor and the powerless with the passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy. His influence on health care can be seen in everything from mental health parity to community health centers to our current work on comprehensive health insurance reform. Given Sen. Kennedy’s knowledge and experience, I sought his guidance early on as I crafted my stem cell bill. His advice was key to ensuring passage of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. Sen. Kennedy’s legacy will be firmly ingrained in our nation’s history when it comes to health care, immigration and civil rights.”

U.S. Rep Diana DeGette,
1st Congressional District

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“Today, I, with so many other Americans, mourn the passing of Ted Kennedy, a great champion for each of us over decades of service in the U.S. Senate.

“Sen. Kennedy was passionate about making sure every person had a voice on issues related to civil rights, education, health care and many other areas of our lives. He often was that voice for all of us. A man of privilege, he fought for the most basic of privileges for those who might not otherwise be blessed.

“I sat on the front row of the Democratic National Convention a year ago and listened to him ‘pass the torch to a new generation.’ He said, ‘The dream is still alive.’ It is now up to us to make that dream come true.

“It would be the most fitting of tributes to Sen. Kennedy for the U.S. Congress to now pass legislation for major health care reform. And for us, our tribute should be a renewed commitment to the kind of public service Sen. Kennedy personified.”

Colorado Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak

National figures also weighed in:

“We will miss Sen. Ted Kennedy as a nation, and I will miss him as a human being. Over the next few months, as we debate his life’s passion, which was universal health care, we will feel his presence everywhere. He will be in the Senate Chamber, in the committee rooms, in the White House and in the minds of most of the reporters old enough to have witnessed the trajectory of this extraordinary generation of America’s First Family from its beginning.

“Much has been written about Ted Kennedy already. He was, indeed, extraordinary. My mother, who was a solid Upper East Side Republican until 2004, once happened to sit next to him at a wedding of a mutual friend. She had never met him before. I’m sure the exchange was lively, and, being a Dean, I doubt my mother gave him much quarter.

“A week later, a beautiful, kind, and very personal handwritten letter arrived from Ted Kennedy. My mother, like so many other Americans, was hooked by the Kennedy charm and grace.”

Former Democratic Party National Chair Howard Dean

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“Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend, Sen. Ted Kennedy. For nearly five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well-being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts. His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives — in seniors who know new dignity, in families that know new opportunity, in children who know education’s promise, and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just — including me.

“In the United States Senate, I can think of no one who engendered greater respect or affection from members of both sides of the aisle. His seriousness of purpose was perpetually matched by humility, warmth and good cheer. He battled passionately on the Senate floor for the causes that he held dear, and yet still maintained warm friendships across party lines. And that’s one reason he became not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy.

“I personally valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the presidency. And, even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I’ve benefited as president from his encouragement and wisdom. His fight gave us the opportunity we were denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us: the blessing of time to say thank you and goodbye.

Today, our country mourns. We say goodbye to a friend and a true leader who challenged us all to live out our noblest values. And we give thanks for his memory, which inspires us still."

President Barack Obama