CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The two sons of Senator Edward M. Kennedy strode into the lobby of the Omni hotel on Tuesday morning and were besieged by delegates, reporters, and well-wishers. Photos were taken, sound bites recorded, and a flurry of handshakes exchanged.
“It’s like he’s still in Congress,” Edward M. Kennedy Jr. quipped as he waited for his brother, Patrick Kennedy, a former US representative from Rhode Island.
The pair arrived in Charlotte for an afternoon reception for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, which is being built at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and to attend a video tribute to their father later Tuesday during the opening night of the Democratic National Convention. Joseph Kennedy III, a candidate for Congress from Massachusetts, introduced the video.
The video, in part, replays some of Edward M. Kennedy’s debate performance against Mitt Romney in their 1994 Senate race, and resurrects issues, including health care, that characterized Democratic differences with Romney both then and now.
“It’s almost that he’s speaking at this convention,” Edward Kennedy Jr., 50, said of his father. “It’s amazing how eerily the refrains are in this campaign to 1994,” added Patrick Kennedy, who is 45.
As they sat in an upstairs lobby at the hotel, the sons agreed that the senator’s absence here carried profound personal significance.
“It’s sad in some ways that my father isn’t here. He always refreshed our memories about why we were Democrats,” Edward Kennedy Jr. said.
However, he said, the sensation has answered a question he often asked himself: How did his cousins react emotionally when they heard references to their late fathers, John and Robert Kennedy?
“I wondered, ‘How is that? Is it just a painful memory?’ ” Edward Kennedy Jr. said. “I realize now that it’s not a painful reminder. It’s actually incredibly comforting.”
On the way up the elevator, Patrick Kennedy recounted, a stranger approached him to say, “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for your father and his work on immigration.”
Like that person, Patrick Kennedy said, “nobody in the country had a better friend in my father than those without a voice.”
Although the senator did not live long enough to see his political goal, comprehensive health care, enacted into law, his sons said that President Obama’s signature domestic achievement is inextricably tied to their father’s legacy.
“If my dad were alive, he’d be here reminding everybody that this president delivered,” Patrick Kennedy said. “It’s the cause; that’s what the dream was.”
And the cause, Edward Kennedy Jr. said, always carried more meaning for his father and his brothers than personal successes. When the senator spoke of his brothers, he said, “He’d always tell me, ‘Yes, they were great individuals, but what really made them memorable is what they stood for and their ideals.’ ”
Similarly, Patrick Kennedy said, “we had to move the page and move forward” after his father’s death. The senator, he added, “was never one to dwell on the past in a maudlin sense.”