By Jim Snyder - 08/26/09 02:33 PM EDT
The fourth son of one of the most famous families in American history, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) was the patriarch of a political family tree that extends to other branches of government and areas of political influence.
Melody Barnes, the director of President Barack Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, was Kennedy’s chief counsel on the Judiciary Committee from 1995 to 2003. In between, she helped found the Center for American Progress, a prominent progressive think tank.
Even though Kennedy often took positions at odds with big business, he has more former aides working on K Street than any other current or former member of Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Anthony Podesta and Nick Allard, both former Kennedy counsels, now run two of the most successful lobbying shops in D.C., the Podesta Group and Patton Boggs.
Up-and-comers on the political left often sought out positions on Kennedy’s staff, attracted by his famous name, an unabashed progressive agenda and a reputation for generosity and kindness.
His staff developed a reputation as among the most talented on Capitol Hill.
Once there, staffers were often involved in some of the biggest political fights of the day.
Aides helped Kennedy block Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court, rewrite immigration laws, expand prescription drug coverage and reform the nation’s education system, owing to Kennedy’s prominence in the Senate and as a political figure.
Former aides describe the experience in similar terms. Once there, staffers were fueled by a competitive spirit that Kennedy’s demanding nature encouraged and a personal loyalty to their boss that lasted long after they left for other pursuits.
“The opportunity to make an argument didn’t include the right to be taken seriously,” said Allard, who is the co-chairman of Patton Boggs's public policy and administrative law department.
But while demanding, Kennedy was also a generous, considerate employer, former aides say.
“There is no such thing as an ex-Kennedy staffer,” Allard said. “I’m thinking of the Michael Corleone line from 'The Godfather,' ‘Every time you think you are out, you get pulled back in.’ He leaves behind a very large family and we are all thinking about him today.”
On a tour of poor areas in the Midwest in the 1980s, some Kennedy aides were trapped by an ice storm in Iowa during the Christmas holiday, Allard said. Kennedy took it upon himself to see that the aides were home for the holiday.
“You never really felt that you were at a distance. That’s why a lot of us would get down on the tracks and lay in front of a train for him.”
“He always reached out to people who had less,” Podesta said.
That closeness with staff extended to Kennedy’s own involvement with the issues of the day. Podesta described Kennedy as the “hardest-working senator I’ve ever come across.”
“He’d be there first thing in the morning. ‘Let’s have breakfast to talk about this thing.’ And he’d be there at night and say, ‘Let’s have dinner to talk about that other thing.’ He wasn’t somebody who left at 4 and left the work to staff.”
Now at top lobbying firms, both Podesta and Allard represent a number of interests involved in the leading legislative issues of the day on healthcare, financial services and energy policy reforms.
Other former aides-turned-lobbyists include Nick Littlefield of Foley Hoag, Tracy Spicer of Avenue Solutions and Thomas Susman of the American Bar Association.
Dr. David Blumenthal, a former Harvard Medical School professor and adviser to Kennedy, was tapped by Obama to lead health information technology efforts. White House counsel Greg Craig also worked for Kennedy.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), held the same position for Kennedy.
“He was always able to attract the best and the brightest to work for him,” Allard said.