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Philly favorite Kennedy's life marked by triumph, tragedy, scandal and achievement

TED KENNEDY, the 76-year-old patriarch of America's legendary political family, has fought a lot of battles over the last half-century - including several high-profile ones centered right here in Pennsylvania.

Sen. Kennedy sits with his daughter, Kara Kennedy, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston yesterday.
Sen. Kennedy sits with his daughter, Kara Kennedy, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston yesterday.Read moreAssociated Press

TED KENNEDY, the 76-year-old patriarch of America's legendary political family, has fought a lot of battles over the last half-century - including several high-profile ones centered right here in Pennsylvania.

Now, many of those whom Kennedy touched locally are pulling for the Massachusetts senator as he embarks on the fight of a lifetime, against a malignant form of brain cancer that will require aggressive treatment in the weeks ahead.

No one was more vocal in his support yesterday than another cancer patient from across the Senate aisle - Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Arlen Specter, who's undergoing treatment for a recurrence of Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymph system.

"Senator Kennedy is a real fighter - we all know that - and I am betting on Senator Kennedy," Specter said in a short speech on the Senate floor yesterday afternoon, when he hailed the Democrat's work on issues such as hate crimes - the subject of legislation they co-sponsored - as well as civil-rights and labor and judicial issues.

"A few years back, I was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and given three to six weeks to live," Specter told his Senate colleagues. "I note in the press release that it says, 'how well patients fare depends on what specific tumor type is determined by further testing.' The diagnosis for me for a malignant brain tumor turned out to be incorrect."

Kennedy's friends and colleagues continued to hope for that kind of good news last night, but many were discouraged by the diagnosis from doctors at Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital, where Kennedy was rushed on Saturday after suffering a seizure at home on Cape Cod.

Kennedy's doctors said that he had a malignant glioma in the left parietal lobe, a region of the brain that helps govern sensation, movement and language. The finding that a brain tumor - and specifically a glioma, an especially lethal type - had caused the seizure was about the worst possible news.

Several experts told the Associated Press that the fact that doctors did not mention operating to remove the tumor is a bad sign, which could mean as little as three years or less to live.

However, Kennedy also was described as in good spirits and was seen alert and laughing with family members by an Associated Press photographer granted access to his hospital floor.

First elected to the Senate in 1962, Edward Moore Kennedy deeply influenced several generations of political leaders, especially here.

He has been particularly close to former Philadelphia Mayor Bill Green, whose Democratic powerhouse family had been linked closely to the Kennedys since the 1950s.

"Last week before we knew any of this, Senator Kennedy was in the autumn of his life - now it's winter," said Green - who rafted down the Colorado River in 1972 with Kennedy, their sons, and several others - in a telephone interview last night.

"I knew him well enough to know that he's given his life to the country he loved, and his heart to the memory of his brothers and to those whose lives he has touched."

Green had just taken office as mayor in early 1980, at the height of a city fiscal crisis, when he endorsed Kennedy's uphill and upstart presidential bid against fellow Democratic President Jimmy Carter.

With the backing of Green and a number of black ward leaders, Pennsylvania delivered a narrow primary victory for Kennedy that April that encouraged him to fight on to the convention.

Last night, Green recalled that he was one of a handful of supporters invited back to Kennedy's hotel suite in New York after his stirring August 1980 convention speech.

"He said to me, 'What do you think?' and I said it would have been a better way to begin [the campaign] than to end it."

The 1980 campaign, which peaked with his victory in Pennsylvania, was a turning point in a remarkable life that so far has been marked with triumph and tragedy, scandal and a record of legislative achievement that few have matched.

His failure to oust the unpopular Carter seemed to confirm - on the heels of the 1969 Chappaquiddick scandal, in which a young female staff member drowned in a car driven by the senator - that he would never follow his slain brother John F. Kennedy to the White House.

But Teddy Kennedy's political longevity was a gift that eluded JFK and his two other brothers - Joseph Jr., shot down in World War II, and Robert, assassinated as a 1968 presidential candidate - and Ted, the youngest brother, made the most of that in the Senate.

His record as a lawmaker included critical support for the major civil-rights laws of the mid-1960s, as well as later bills, such as the Americans with Disabilites Act, which he co-sponsored.

And Kennedy's popularity with the party faithful - especially in Philadelphia, where excitement over the nation's first Catholic president had sparked a huge margin for Jack Kennedy here in 1960 - brought him back to the city to campaign many times.

One of his most significant efforts was a joint appearance here in October 1999 with then-President Bill Clinton, aimed - successfully, it turned out - at rallying support for the Democrats' struggling mayoral nominee, John Street.

Kennedy seemed to stumble over the future mayor's name before he said: "If you're talking about building on the outstanding record of Mayor Rendell, it's John Street."

Ed Rendell, in fact, was one of a number of then-younger Pennsylvania pols who bonded on that 1980 Kennedy campaign and became a statewide leader. Now governor, Rendell found himself on the opposite side from Kennedy in the hard-fought 2008 primary - the governor the top backer of Hillary Clinton, while the senator was a key endorser of Barack Obama - but the affection remains strong.

"He is greatly saddened by the news," Rendell's spokesman Chuck Ardo said last night, "but judging from Arlen Specter's success in fighting a similar disease, the governor believes that Senator Kennedy's prognosis can be good and he certainly wishes him the best." *