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Published: Thursday, 8/27/2009

Ohio, Michigan leaders celebrate senator's rich legacy of service

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

From congressmen to the mayor and the governor, leaders in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan yesterday lauded the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy for his legacy of service.

"Senator Kennedy's leadership, compassion, courage, and endless optimism reminded us that to dream is to open the window to opportunity," U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said in a statement. "Creating opportunity for others was his life's cause. Today, we recommit ourselves to that cause in his memory."

Mr. Kennedy's visits to the area through the decades included a stop in 1976 to support Thomas Ludlow Ashley, the Democratic congressman from Toledo who faced a challenge that year from Carty Finkbeiner, who was then a Republican.

Addressing a crowd of 800 people in the Masonic complex, Mr. Kennedy said: "Americans sleep in better homes today because of Lud Ashley."

Mr. Ashley, who represented Toledo in Congress from 1955-81, recalled yesterday that Mr. Kennedy on the stump "was mesmerizing."

"He carried the banner of liberalism about as staunchly and indefatigably as anybody possibly could have," Mr. Ashley said. "There wasn't a moment he let down. I think he'll be remembered a long time for that."

Mr. Finkbeiner, as mayor of Toledo and a Democrat, years later struck up a friendship with the senator's son, Patrick, who had become a congressman from Rhode Island.

The mayor yesterday sent his condolences to Patrick and the Kennedy family.

"[Senator Kennedy] ... will be deeply missed by the Kennedy family members, as well as senior citizens, trade unionists, civil rights leaders, and the less fortunate in our midst, each of whom could count upon Ted Kennedy when a voice or a vote was needed in their behalf," Mr. Finkbeiner said in a statement.

Mr. Kennedy was cut out to represent the people, said William F. Boyle, a former chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party.

"He didn't represent, as so many do today, the special interests," said Mr. Boyle, a Kennedy delegate to the 1980 Democratic National Convention. "He fought for the poor and the elderly. He pulled for the have-nots rather than the haves. That was his legacy."

U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D., Dearborn) said that in 2002, while involved in one of the toughest races of his career, Mr. Kennedy came to Michigan to campaign for him.

"On behalf of my dear friend Senator Kennedy," Mr. Dingell said in a statement, "I promise to continue the fight for a cause that both of us spent our entire careers [on] - access to quality, affordable health care for every American."

Gov. Ted Strickland, who worked with Mr. Kennedy while governor and while in Washington as a congressman, said, "He may perhaps be the greatest senator our country has ever produced."

The high esteem transcended party lines. Jon Stainbrook, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, was in his teens in 1980 when Mr. Kennedy challenged incumbent President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination. But the memory of Mr. Kennedy's campaign visits to Toledo remains vivid.

"It was a religious experience for a lot of the Democrats. He was a Kennedy," Mr. Stainbrook said. "It really made an impression on me. This was the person to follow the family's legacy of political activism.

"There are political families we look up to - Bushes, Kennedys - that make such an impact," Mr. Stainbrook said. "It's a legacy of service to the country.

"This man was a gracious, admirable public servant," Mr. Stainbrook said.

Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Toledo-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee, was in Washington in 2007 when Mr. Kennedy introduced a bill allowing noncitizen agricultural workers to earn amnesty.

"He was one of the most warm, amicable persons you'd ever want to meet," Mr. Velasquez said. "He was a great champion of farm workers."

Mr. Kennedy's association with northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan began years before his 1980 presidential bid. But that year, he made Ohio his battleground. He paid repeated visits to the state and to northwest Ohio before the June 3 primary, including a stop before cheering throngs at the United Auto Workers Local 12 hall on Ashland Avenue.

In Toledo less than two weeks before the primary, Mr. Kennedy refused to say whether he would support President Carter's re-election, should the incumbent be the Democratic nominee.

Instead, he questioned Mr. Carter's competency and said the president was afraid to debate him.

Most Ohio Democratic leaders either remained neutral or supported Mr. Carter. Two key defectors were Mr. Boyle, who was retiring after a decade as chairman of the Lucas County party, and Sen. Howard Metzenbaum. They supported Mr. Kennedy.

Mr. Boyle was host to appearances by Mr. Kennedy in 1972 and 1976. In 1980, Mr. Boyle said last night, "I just felt he was the man at that time."

Mr. Kennedy's oratory could shake the rafters, but up close, "He was very low-key," Mr. Boyle said. "He was very friendly and courteous with everybody he dealt with."

Mr. Ashley supported his president, despite Mr. Kennedy's appearance on his behalf four years earlier.

"I had divided loyalty," Mr. Ashley said. "My first loyalty was to the president with whom I had close relations."

While the Kennedy camp had expected Mr. Ashley's support, "that never came between Ted and me," Mr. Ashley said. "He really was fantastic about that."

Before his praise of Mr. Ashley in 1976 during a $100-a-plate dinner, Mr. Kennedy spoke to 700 at a rally at the University of Toledo sponsored by the school's Young Democrats. At both appearances, the most effective applause line was reported to be his call for a national health insurance program. He said that adequate health care should be a right, not a privilege.

In the thick of the 1972 presidential campaign, Mr. Kennedy told a crowd of 950 at a Lucas County Democratic fund-raiser that the Nixon administration's corruption was matched only by that of two other Republicans - Ulysses S. Grant and Warren G. Harding, Ohioans both.

He said that politics is not a dirty business, "and those who have given it a dirty name deserve to be repudiated soundly at the polls."

He was introduced by Mr. Ashley; Toledo Mayor Harry Kessler gave the senator a glass key to the city, and then-Gov. John J. Gilligan spoke.

One of Toledo's best-known Republicans, Andy Douglas, was in attendance. Mr. Douglas - then a member of Toledo City Council and later an Ohio Supreme Court justice - said he'd been given a ticket by a business associate, and his wife wanted to see and hear Senator Kennedy.

In November, 1965, Senator Kennedy was the speaker at a dinner in Dundee, Mich., honoring then-U.S. Rep. Weston E. Vivian (D., Ann Arbor). More than 1,000 Democrats from five counties crammed the high school gymnasium.

The senator had trouble getting in "because of nearly hysterical admirers, mostly women," wrote Blade staff writer Ken Clawson.

"When he alighted from his limousine with Sen. Patrick V. McNamara (D., Mich.), he was grabbed by two women, both of whom kissed his hand and then burst into tears," wrote Mr. Clawson, later a Washington Post reporter and, in 1974, President Richard Nixon's last director of communications.

Michael V. DiSalle, the former Toledo mayor and Ohio governor, was a strong supporter in 1960 of John F. Kennedy's campaign for president. In 1968, he was on the presidential campaign staff of Robert Kennedy.

In mid-July, 1968, just over a month after the candidate's assassination, Mr. DiSalle started a push, at his own expense, to have the Democratic nomination thrown to Edward Kennedy. He held out hope. For six weeks going into the convention, Senator Kennedy remained silent. Finally on Wednesday of convention week, the senator took himself out of a race he hadn't entered.

In February, 2008, Mr. Kennedy's wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, joined former U.S. Rep. Tim Roemer (D., Ind.) at a Monclova Township home to share their support for presidential candidate Barack Obama with two dozen fellow Roman Catholics.

Mrs. Kennedy also spoke of her husband's enthusiasm for the Illinois senator after Senator Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses.

"Teddy said, 'I'm waiting to see who inspires me.' Suddenly out of Iowa is this man, Barack Obama," Mrs. Kennedy said.

Contact Mark Zaborney at:

mzaborney@theblade.com

or 419-724-6182.



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