Ted Kennedy: A True Man of Boston

Nowadays, it’s impossible to show some newcomer
around the city without mentioning Ted Kennedy. In fact, it’s almost impossible to imagine what Boston would look like without his efforts. The harbor would still be a sump, without his furious lobbying over the span of two presidencies—H. W. Bush and Clinton—to help win hundreds of millions of federal dollars to undertake and complete the cleanup. The Harbor Islands would still be grim little mounds, had Kennedy not pushed for them to be designated national parklands in 1996. Now a marquee exhibit at the Boston Public Library, John Adams’s personal library would have stayed in storage, while both the Chelsea Street Bridge and the Bunker Hill Monument would have been in a sorry state, had he not secured millions for these local projects. The ports would have been dead, too: Harkening back to those long-ago Sundays, Kennedy won $6.75 million in federal money in 2002 to deepen the harbor’s channels to accommodate bigger cargo ships and reinvigorate the city’s ports.

In the late ’60s, backed by outraged neighborhood coalitions, Kennedy helped convince Governor Frank Sargent to call off what would have been an astonishingly destructive highway project, the Inner Belt, a serpentine monstrosity set to cut the city into pieces. Even more radically, he argued that the state be given the authority to build the highway underground, using its own money on top of the federal Inner Belt money. Nevertheless, when the time came to undertake that project, Kennedy was matched only by House Speaker and tunnel namesake Tip O’Neill in his dogged pursuit of federal dollars to minimize the amount the state would be on the hook for. When Ronald Reagan vetoed the project in 1987, Kennedy led the charge to override him, and then fought equally hard in the decade and a half afterward—frequently against Senator John McCain, who delighted in trying to shut off the spigot—to keep the billions of federal money rolling in as the project bloated.

More recently, Kennedy was instrumental in the healthcare reform effort in Massachusetts, bringing in $380 million in federal money to launch the program. This year alone he led the efforts to secure $666 million for Massachusetts schools and $4.2 million for local biotech research, among other achievements. All this came on top of his usual grinding devotion to constituent services and decades-long advocacy for hiking the minimum wage, improving education, supporting small businesses—a list of accomplishments so varied in size and scope that a full accounting has yet to be made. He’s now consigned to history. Suffice it to say, this would be a very different place, had Kennedy not bested McCormack so long ago.