INTERNATIONAL

Election set to fill seat left vacant by Kennedy

Abby Goodnough

BOSTON: Amid fevered speculation about possible contenders for the late Edward M. Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat, Governor Deval Patrick on Monday scheduled a special election for January 19 and said he would keep pushing the state Legislature to change the law so he could name an interim successor.

Shortly before his death last week, Kennedy wrote legislative leaders asking them to revise the law so his seat would not stay vacant for months.

The Legislature indicated on Monday that it would decide quickly whether to grant his request, scheduling a public hearing on the proposal for September 9.

Many lawmakers criticised the proposal in the days before Kennedy’s death, but legislative leaders, at least, have since hinted they would support it.

“I don’t think by any means it’s a certainty that it will happen,” said Mr. Patrick.

“I think that they are trying to find a path from here to there to honour the very reasonable request of Senator Kennedy.”

Excitement

Massachusetts has not had an open Senate seat since 1984, and excitement is running high about two possible candidates in particular: Victoria Reggie Kennedy, Kennedy’s widow, and Joseph P. Kennedy II, his nephew. On Sunday, two Senators who are close friends of the Kennedy family, Christopher J. Dodd and Orrin G. Hatch, said Victoria Kennedy would be a formidable successor.

Despite their comments, she reiterated as recently as Monday that she was not interested in the seat, said people close to the family.

Joseph Kennedy (56), a former congressman from Massachusetts, has $2 million in leftover campaign money.

At a memorial service for his uncle last week, he spoke of the importance of public service and of chasing “the same goals and ideals that Senator Ted Kennedy lived his life for.”

Friends say he is still considering whether to run.

Other possible contenders include Representatives Michael E. Capuano, Stephen F. Lynch and Edward J. Markey; state Attorney-General Martha Coakley; and the former Representative, Martin T. Meehan, who retired in 2007 to become Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, but who has about $4.8 million in campaign cash.

Mr. Patrick ruled himself out as a candidate on Monday, saying he was focused on winning re-election next year.

Joseph Kennedy, who served in the House of Representatives from 1987 to 1999, runs the Citizens Energy Corp., a non-profit organisation he founded to provide affordable heating oil to low-income families.

Although the seat will almost certainly go to a Democrat, several Republicans are also said to be interested in running, including Kerry Healey, who was Lieutenant-Governor under Governor Mitt Romney, and Michael J. Sullivan, until recently the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts.

Under the timeline Mr. Patrick announced on Monday, the primary election for Kennedy’s seat will be held December 8.

The state Legislature reconvenes after Labour Day. Soon after, Congress may vote on health care reform — which Kennedy called “the cause of my life” — and the legislation’s fate could hinge on whether a successor is in place in time for the vote. — © 2009 The New York Times News Service

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