THE BLOG

What Ted Kennedy Meant to Me

09/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In November of 1979, I volunteered to work on Ted Kennedy's Presidential Announcement swing through California. I busted my rear driving the press around and making sure their luggage got to their rooms. But I was a volunteer just happy to be part of my candidate's announcement.

Three days later a call came that changed my life forever. I was 23 and I was on the National Staff of Senator Kennedy's Presidential campaign.

The whole way to Iowa I was pinching myself -- the most progressive voice in the Democratic party was running for President -- probably on a mission destined to fail -- challenging the sitting President of his own party -- and I was relishing the fight on behalf of what would later be called the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.

I learned a lot in the long campaign of 1980. Kennedy taught me loyalty, brotherhood, to never give in -- and to always fight. After every painful loss he pressed on -- and we on his staff pressed on with him.

I reported to John Sasso (who would run Dukakis' campaign for President) and to Paul Tully (who would die of a heart attack campaigning for Bill Clinton in 1992) and Mike Ford who remains my brother to this day.

I went from Iowa, to New Hampshire, to Illinois, Arizona and Texas. Became a delegate tracker in Michigan and stood on the floor of the 1980 convention as the Kennedy floor manager for the Texas and Utah delegations with Bill Carrick (who would run Dick Gephardt's campaign for President).

I was standing on the floor of Madison Square Garden when Kennedy ended the campaign with the words "for all those whose cares were our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die." And the message was soldier on.

Years later I would run Howard Dean's campaign for President. But the journey began with and because of Ted Kennedy.

I would work for Vice President Mondale in the 1984 campaign for President and then I went back to work for Kennedy again - this time at his Fund for a Democratic Majority where Paul Tully and I would spend our official time working to elect a Democratic Senate in 1986 and every minute after work planning Kennedy's potential 1988 presidential campaign. It never happened.

Instead, he built a record as not just a great progressive voice but as what many regard as the record of the greatest Senator of his generation and perhaps of the last century.

Over the years I would name my youngest son Ted. I would work for Bob Shrum, who wrote the 1980 convention speech for Kennedy and who launched one of the most successful media firms in the Democratic Party, and I would become a Fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School at Harvard.

I loved Ted Kennedy, he had so much courage, he wasn't without fault - but he internalized pain - his own and others. It was like he took the pain of everyone he met and somehow engulfed it as a happy warrior with a fierce determination to heal it. I always felt you could see that in his eyes - and it motivated him to make people's lives better. He was so completely human - in a way you don't see very often in someone who had built up so much power. He used that power to lessen the pain and burden on others even when he could not at times lessen his own.

About 18 months ago he called me and asked me to stop by his office. We talked for an hour or so - mostly about Barack Obama's campaign for President. He was so excited about Obama's chances of winning the Presidency -- we talked politics and then we talked about his other love - sailing. He talked about getting away to go sailing on the Chesapeake Bay on my boat the "Ida May". But we both knew it was wistful thinking - he would be on the road campaigning for Obama's victory.

I walked out of his office but decided to step back in for a second. I turned to him and said "Hey Ted, there is something I've been meaning to say to you all these years -- You changed my life -- I just wanted you to know that."

About a week later he had the seizure that would lead to the diagnosis of his brain cancer. And he fought on like he always had before.

I loved Ted Kennedy. It is an honor to have worked for him and to have learned to fight on from him. He changed my life and the lives of so many millions of Americans. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

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