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Democrats Embrace Boston's Liberal Legacy - 2004-07-29


The Democratic National Convention is in full-swing in Boston. Thousands of delegates, dignitaries, and journalists have converged on this historic city that has a reputation for old money and educated elitism. The decision to hold the Democratic National Convention in Boston was controversial from the start and when it became apparent that the Democratic nominee was going to be a wealthy, ivy-league-educated senator from Massachusetts, some political analysts suggested the choice of Boston was a mistake. But, convention organizers aren't shying away from the city's wealthy, liberal legacy.

Until very recently, the name Kerry wasn't the first one to spring to mind when talking about Boston and politics. Long before Massachusetts' junior senator announced his run for the presidency, there was another prominent name in Boston: Kennedy. And when Senator Edward Kennedy climbed to the stage this week at a ceremony honoring his mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, it was clear that the family is still very near and dear to the hearts of many Democrats and many Bostonians.

Senator Kennedy was joined on the stage by his two surviving sisters, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Jean Kennedy Smith. They along with about 60 members of their extended family, were there to help dedicate the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, a 300-acre park system that will ultimately connect downtown Boston to the city's waterfront. The ceremony was deliberately scheduled to coincide with the Democratic National Convention.

"I'm proud that so many Kennedys are here for this very moving occasion for our family," he said. "I know how delighted my mother would be that the city that she loved so much is creating this park in her name."

The Kennedy family's political roots run deep in Massachusetts. On the maternal side, there's John Fitzgerald, mayor of Boston at the turn of the 20th century. On the paternal side, there's Joe Kennedy, a Boston born-and-bred Harvard graduate who served as America's first Irish Catholic ambassador to England. The Kennedys are wealthy, educated, and politically, they tend to be very liberal. Edward Kennedy in particular has championed issues such as health care reform and civil rights first for African-Americans, and now, more recently, for homosexuals who want to marry. That, says VOA political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, is why many felt the choice of Boston could end up alienating so-called independent voters.

"There was a good deal of second-guessing about Boston," he said. "A number of commentators said that this was only going to remind people that John Kerry is from the liberal northeast, and Boston is identified as a very democratic, liberal city in a democratic and liberal state."

Republican strategists have tried to capitalize on the image of John Kerry as a wealthy, educated liberal whose values and experiences don't represent those of the rest of the United States. But so far, the Kerry campaign has refused to distance itself from either Massachusetts or from Senator Edward Kennedy. Indeed, some analysts have suggested that it was Senator Kennedy who helped John Kerry beat Howard Dean, the candidate who appeared to be the frontrunner for the democratic nomination early this year.

"Senator Kerry has received a number of staff people from Senator Kennedy's office," added Mr. Rothernberg. "Senator Kennedy stumped around Iowa with Senator Kerry, participating at rallies with him. Everybody knows that Kerry and Kennedy are from the same state and are linked together. But the Republicans have done a good job already of pegging Kerry as a liberal from Massachusetts, so I'm not sure the Kennedy connection hurts that much."

Edward Kennedy's presence at the convention is proving to be a dominant one. He's hosted a $50,000 a plate fundraiser for the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, which supports human rights projects. He also formally addressed the delegates on the second night of the convention. The ceremony honoring his mother was a relatively non-partisan one, considering that it coincided with the Democratic National Convention.

Among the featured speakers was Massachusetts' Republican governor, Mitt Romney, who's been an enthusiastic supporter of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway project. But there was a brief reminder that just a few blocks away, Democrats were gathering to select their presidential candidate. Before delivering the invocation, Reverend Steven Ayers reminded the audience that his church, the Old North Church, is historically significant. It's where two lanterns were hung in April of 1775, warning the revolutionary leader Paul Revere that the British were invading Boston harbor.

"Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy instilled a love of those lanterns in her family," said Mr. Ayers. "Two sat in the oval office during President Kennedy's tenure, and we will be happy to send two more lanterns to Washington to adorn the Oval Office for another JFK."

Senator Edward Kennedy isn't the only family member casting light on this convention. And Reverend Steven Ayers isn't the only person drawing parallels between President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Senator John Forbes Kerry.

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