No one in Congress can match Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's record of championing causes for middle- and working-class people.

From health care to civil rights to workplace safety, Kennedy has been Washington's most effective advocate for the little guy. In almost a half-century of public service, about a quarter of the 2,500 bills he sponsored are law.

It is too soon to write a final tribute to Kennedy, 76, who has a malignant brain tumor. But his prognosis is dire. However, Kennedy vowed to return soon to the Senate, where his work remains vital.

The mark of an effective legislator is the ability to work with the opposing party. The Massachusetts Democrat is ridiculed as one of the Senate's most liberal members, but Republicans regularly team up with him to get things done.

Kennedy's string of achievements is unrivaled. He has played a major role in fighting for the rights of the disabled, boosting women's rights, protecting health-care benefits, creating public financing for presidential elections, establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday, creating the Family Leave Act, and raising the minimum wage.

Kennedy has built long-lasting political ties to Philadelphia, too. In 1980, then-Mayor Bill Green's endorsement helped Kennedy win the Pennsylvania Democratic primary for president, although he ultimately lost to President Carter.

The liberal lion's flaws are well-known. But they do not overshadow a lifetime of achievement - a record of public service that the public still needs.