Massachusetts prepares to say goodbye to Kennedy

Boston and Massachusetts prepared Thursday for a lengthy goodbye to Sen. Edward Kennedy as that state’s governor voiced optimism that a bill allowing him to appoint Kennedy’s successor would proceed.

Kennedy’s desire to have a quick successor named to fill his Senate seat is a “reasonable request” that could make its way through the Massachusetts Legislature quickly, Gov. Deval Patrick (D) said Thursday.

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He repeated that he’d sign a bill giving him the power to appoint an interim senator if legislation reaches his desk, and added that he believes state lawmakers will do so.

“I'm talking regularly with legislative leaders, and they're not, my sense is, in principle opposed to the idea,” Patrick said during an interview Thursday on MSNBC.

“There's a bill actually pending already. The thinking in the Legislature is that they might take up the bill sooner” than had been thought, he added.

Just last week, Kennedy wrote Patrick and state legislative leaders in Massachusetts asking them to approve a bill giving Patrick the power to appoint a successor. Kennedy wrote that the appointee should agree not to run in a special election for the seat.

The request was driven by a desire to ensure that Democrats have 60 seats in the Senate this fall, when they hope to move comprehensive healthcare reform. The 60 seats would make it more difficult for Republicans to block legislation in the Senate through the filibuster.

Kennedy died late Tuesday after a battle with brain cancer. His funeral is Saturday in Boston.

On Thursday, after a private family mass in Hyannis Port, Mass., a motorcade will bring Kennedy’s body through Boston and past sites that speak to the deep history the Kennedy family has in the city.

Kennedy will pass the church where his mother was baptized, the building housing his first office and Faneuil Hall, where the bell will be rung 47 times in his honor to mark each of his years in the Senate. The motorcade will arrive at the John F. Kennedy Library at 4 p.m., where Kennedy’s body will remain until the Saturday funeral.

The public has been invited to visit Kennedy’s body as it lies in repose Thursday evening and Friday.

On Saturday, President Barack Obama will be among those delivering eulogies at Kennedy’s funeral. He will be buried later Friday at Arlington National Cemetery near his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

The proposal to allow Patrick to appoint someone to fill Kennedy’s seat on a temporary basis would reverse a 2004 law put in place by Democrats. That law was moved out of fear that then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R) would appoint a Republican to replace Sen. John Kerry (D) in the Senate if Kerry had won the presidency.

Under Massachusetts law, a special election to fill a Senate seat must be held between 145 and 160 days after the vacancy occurs. Since Kennedy died late Tuesday, that puts the window between Jan. 17 and Feb. 1. Holding the race on a Tuesday, a traditional Election Day, would mean Jan. 18, Jan. 25
or Feb. 1.

“I think it's a very reasonable request, and it was so like Sen. Kennedy to look ahead and around the corner,” Patrick said. “Given the significance of the proposals before the Congress right now, I think it's important to have two senators.”

Republicans denounced the idea and some Democratic leaders were also initially cool. But state Senate President Therese Murray has reportedly warmed to the idea.