Massachusetts, Dems and GOP Alike, Mourn Kennedy

Ted Kennedy's death evokes sense of loss in Bay State.

Aug. 26, 2009— -- As the sun rose over the sailboats that dot Lewis Bay in Hyannis Port, Mass., Bob Segersten tossed a quarter in the fountain at the John F. Kennedy Memorial for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Segersten told that he'd dreamt the ailing senator had died and awoke Wednesday morning to hear the news that Kennedy -- a Massachusetts legend -- was gone at the age of 77.

"I usually agreed with his politics but even if I wasn't (in agreement) I thought he had the best interest in the country at heart," said Segersten, 68, of Hyannis.

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Mourners like Segersten had flocked to that memorial in 1999 when Kennedy's nephew, John F. Kennedy Jr., died with his wife in a private plane crash over the waters of nearby Martha's Vineyard.

The road from downtown Hyannis to the Kennedy compound curves along marshes full of ducks, and even at dawn several homes flew their flags at half mast.

Outside the News Shop, Linda, a self-described "hedge professional" who trims the shrubbery at the Kennedy compound, said she was saddened by the news.

She had been awakened at 1:30 a.m. when her daughter learned about the senator's death on Twitter.

"He was well-liked and he will be missed," said Linda, adding that Kennedy "always said hello as he drove his golf cart on his way to go sailing."

"You hear? Dead. Omigod terrible!" a power walker shouted to a friend across an intersection a half mile from Kennedy's home.

At dawn the only evidence of the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy could be found on Marchant Avenue where motorcycle police officers blocked the entrance to the six-acre Kennedy compound – a sprawling shingled New England home that had been built by his father, the business titan Joseph Kennedy Sr.

But by sunrise, satellite television trucks gathered outside.

"Good times, bad times," Barnstable Police Chief Paul MacDonald, accustomed to directing the traffic and gawkers for Kennedy weddings and funerals, told the Boston Globe.

But during the day mourners appeared at Kennedy landmarks like the memorial, the compound and Boston's John F. Kennedy Library, where the body will lie in state before burial near his brothers John and Robert at Arlington National Cemetery.

Kennedy was a fixture in this small New England community, often passing through on his golf cart in khaki pants and short-sleeve golf shirts with his wife of 17 years, Vicki, en route to their private dock.

The couple often had their Portuguese waterdogs -- Splash, Sunny, and Cappy -- in tow when they sailed the waters of Nantucket Sound in their sailboat Mya.

"Everybody else sees him on TV giving speeches," MacDonald said. "Down here he is just another resident who wants to spend some time on the water."

"He was very approachable and a nice guy," said Jose Bosch, 50, a neighbor with a view of Kennedy's pier. "He wasn't aloof. He didn't walk around with guards. You could have walked right up to him."

Their thoughts were echoed by the state's top politician, Gov. Deval Patrick, who said, "One of the Commonwealth's brightest lights went out last night."

And former Gov. Mitt Romney -- once a Kennedy opponent -- also praised the senator's legacy.

"In 1994, I joined the long list of those who ran against Ted and came up short," he said. "But he was the kind of man you could like even if he was your adversary. I came to admire Ted enormously for his charm and sense of humor – qualities all the more impressive in a man who had known so much loss and sorrow."

Kennedy Not Universally Beloved

But Kennedy and the family dynasty, were not a universally beloved -- even in Democratic-centric state like Massachusetts.

In the last test of his basic popularity, a CNN poll early this month, 51 percent of Americans expressed a favorable opinion of him overall; 35 percent saw him unfavorably; the rest had no opinion.

Many voters never forgot Chappaquiddick, the 1969 fatal auto accident that derailed Kennedy's presidential aspirations. He addressed the nation in August of that year to ask their forgiveness in the accident that killed 27-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne.

Kennedy's highest popularity ratings were at 73 percent in a Gallup poll in February of that year. But five months later, they dropped to 49 percent and never again regained that high level.

But politics in Massachusetts is familial and so are voting habits, according to locals.

"Just as it's a tradition for families to do certain things like go to the same church in New England, there is a tradition to vote for the same guy," said Jim Donaldson, who grew up in Republican Harvard, Mass.

"I think many of the Democratic families voted for Kennedy and passed on that sense of duty to their kids," said the 55-year-old who now works in the technology field in Seattle. "He served for 47 years, and it could be three generations voted for him."

"I suppose it's the end of a dynasty," said Donaldson. "He was real champion for the Democratic Party. I think he earned that respect later in his career. Despite his shortcomings, people still liked him."

Republican stalwarts at a high-end assisted-living facility in Groton, Mass., were glued to television sets as Boston news stations aired non-stop Kennedy coverage.

"I didn't care for him, but the news made me sick to my stomach," said one 88-year-old who in her youth campaigned for Massachusetts GOP legacies like Sen. Ed Brooke, and Sen. George Cabot Lodge.

Her young aide, Jessica Morell, a 22-year-old college student whose family tradition is Republican, said, "I am shocked and sad."

Kennedy No Saint, But Beloved

Sally Reed, who lives near the posh Groton School that educated a long line of Democratic leaders, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, said Kennedy always struck her as "utterly authentic, bred to the bone."

"Being a politician was not a brittle shell or veneer, but rather public servant, was the essence of the man," said the 57-year-old. "He gave his whole life to it. He seemed fully rounded as a person, and as we know, was most emphatically not a saint."

But back in Hyannis Port, where Democratic blood runs thicker than family, one Kennedy neighbor admonished a policeman for running a stop sign in the quiet neighborhood near the compound.

"We're busy today," said the officer.

"He tried to the best he could to live a normal life when he was here but of course he was the No. 1 Celebrity," said Richard, who did not want to use his last name.

"Families lined up forever (outside his home) to tell little stories about him and his generosity," he said.

At the Caffe e Dolce on Main Street in Hyannis, where the Kennedys and Arnold Schwarzennegger have been spotted over the years, heated political discussions begin with the morning coffee.

"There are a lot of Republicans here and there is a lot of resentment of the Kennedys," said Peter Connelly, 62, of neighboring town Yarmouth. Connelly was quick to distance himself from the negativity, adding, "My family was very fond of the Kennedys."

But Connelly's friend, Don Juliano, 74, of West Dennis, is not a Kennedy supporter.

"I hold a grudge because of what happened over on the Vineyard," he said. "I'm still upset about it. I don't think he handled it right and because of who he was, he got away with it."

But Pattie Novello, 48, of Pepperell, Mass., took different view of the late senator, even though she had never once voted for him.

"The entire family has done so much for the country," she said. "They are a legacy and he'll never be forgotten. The legacy will live on and on."

And so Kennedy himself told the nation in his eloquent speech at the 1980 Democratic Convention, when he lost the bid to Jimmy Carter: "The dream will never die."