Local pols remember Ted's visits

PHILLY POLITICIANS knew that they could count on Teddy.

Whatever the campaign, cause or battle, Sen. Edward Moore Kennedy was always available to lend a hand, local leaders recalled yesterday in the wake of the death of the 77-year-old political legend.

"His love for the city was tremendous," said U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah. "He credited Philadelphia with his brother's win for the presidency. When he ran for president, he won Philadelphia."

During his lengthy public career - championing social issues for more than four decades in the Senate, campaigning for Democratic candidates and carrying the family torch for his slain brothers - Kennedy influenced many Philadelphia political leaders.

One was former Mayor Bill Green, whose Democratic powerhouse family has ties with the Kennedys dating from the 1950s, when his father supported John F. Kennedy for president.

"It was stunning how full of life and energy he was," said Green, recalling a vacation in Colorado that he and Ted Kennedy took with their sons in 1972. "It seemed to me that there was a real sense there that time was not to be wasted."

Green met Kennedy in 1964, when the senator came to Philadelphia to campaign for Green, who was running to fill his late father's congressional seat.

"He had a great sense of humor," Green said. "When he was young and unscripted, coming into Philadelphia to campaign for a friend of his family's, he was a Stanley Cup, Super Bowl, World Series campaigner."

Green remembered an appearance that Kennedy made on his behalf in 1964.

According to Green, Kennedy jokingly said: "I'm not sure if I should be here. Frankly I resent anybody who takes advantage of a family name to get into public life."

Just after taking office as mayor in 1980, Green supported Kennedy's upstart bid for president against Democratic President Jimmy Carter. With Green's support, the state delivered a narrow win for Kennedy - essentially the peak of Kennedy's failed campaign.

Kennedy's presidential ambitions ended, but he remained in the Senate, where his record was marked by his dedication to issues such as health care, civil rights, education and immigration.

And although he never followed his older brother into the White House, Kennedy achieved the political longevity that his brothers never had.

Joseph Jr. was shot down in World War II, President John F. Kennedy was slain in 1963 and Robert was assassinated in 1968 as a presidential candidate.

"He had some holes ripped in his heart by assassinations," said Green.

"I think his strength and his greatness was that he allowed compassion, rather than cynicism, to fill those holes."

Kennedy was a key supporter of civil-rights laws in the 1960s and later co-sponsored the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Former Mayor John Street noted that Kennedy supported issues of great importance to Philadelphians.

"We're a great big urban area that has a huge population of poor people and minorities who need a lot of help from the government," Street said. "He believed the government should be there to provide that help."

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady agreed. "He was the guy that was a wealthy guy, but was out there, a champion for the little people."

Fattah said that Kennedy was a crucial backer of his GEAR-UP legislation - which provides college-awareness education and preparation - in 1998 and helped him secure the votes for the bill in the Senate.

"Senator Kennedy gave this great speech on the floor on why it was important," Fattah said, adding that Kennedy counseled him on how to approach Republican leaders about the bill.

Kennedy enjoyed great popularity in Philadelphia, a city that overwhelmingly supported JFK for president in 1960. Ted Kennedy often traveled to the city to stump for candidates.

One memorable appearance was in October 1999 with President Bill Clinton at a rally to boost support for Democratic mayoral nominee Street.

"If you're talking about building on the outstanding record of Mayor Rendell, it's John Street," Kennedy told the crowd.

The event was widely credited with helping propel Street to victory.

"His endorsement and his support for me gave me a measure of credibility, very similar to the way his endorsement of Barack Obama gave him a measure of credibility," Street said.

"It's really very helpful when you have someone of his stature who says: 'Here's the guy.' "

Looking to the future, area lawmakers said they hoped that legislation to reform health care would be Kennedy's legacy.

"I think it's going to propel us forward," Fattah said of Kennedy's death.

"I think it's going to unify even the more moderate members of the party. Health care was the cause of his life."