Alum Barbara Souliotis shares her thoughts regarding Senator Kennedy’s first campaign for the U.S. Senate. Barbara is the Senator’s longest-standing staff person beginning with him when he was an Assistant District Attorney in Boston.
It all began in 1962 – 60 years ago, on EMK’s first U.S. Senate campaign. It was an epic campaign involving 3 prominent political Massachusetts families. In the primary, Ted Kennedy, brother of the President of the United States versus state Attorney General Edward McCormack, nephew of the U.S. Speaker of the House, John McCormack, and in the general election, Kennedy versus George Lodge, son of Henry Cabot Lodge, a former U.S. Senator who was defeated by JFK in 1952.
EMK’s campaign manager was Massachusetts representative Gerard Doherty, press secretary Edward Martin, a former reporter with the Boston Traveler daily newspaper, and deputy press secretary Terry Robinson. Others heavily involved were EMK’s cousins Joe Gargan, Robert Fitzgerald, and later brother-in-law Stephen Smith.
We had a fabulous network of volunteers and friends in almost every city and town in the Commonwealth referred to as Kennedy Secretaries who were tasked with keeping headquarters informed of issues and major events such as parades, picnics, senior citizen events, etc. that EMK could attend and have an opportunity to speak and meet and greet the people. We had 5 or 6 advance people including Charles Tretter and Bill Mohan, Don Dowd in the Springfield area, Gene Dellea in the Berkshires and others who were coordinators in various sections of the state. EMK really enjoyed campaigning as he outworked his opponents typically starting his day at 5:30 a.m. shaking hands at plant gates, speaking at 15-20 events a day and ending at 10:00 p.m.
I have a funny story that alums will appreciate regarding EMK’s attention to every detail. One day Charlie Tretter was waiting to meet EMK at the first stop of the day in Brockton. Kennedy immediately looked down at the shoes Charlie was wearing which obviously were Italian-made. Charlie confirmed he bought them in Italy. Kennedy asked him how he could possibly think of wearing those shoes when Brockton, as well as Haverhill and Lawrence, were the largest manufacturers of shoes in the country at that time. He immediately told Charlie to go home and put on American shoes and catch up with him later.
The headquarters was located on Tremont Street in Boston, and McCormack opened his headquarters right next door. He posted a sign every day in his window challenging Kennedy to debate. They agreed to two debates—one in South Boston (McCormack territory) and one in western Massachusetts.
The turning point of the entire campaign was the first debate at South Boston High School. Those who were present in the hall were convinced that McCormack had won. However, as soon as the debate ended the switchboard at the Kennedy headquarters lit up from hundreds of calls from across the state who had watched on TV and listened on the radio saying they were undecided about whom they would vote for but they were now 100 percent for Kennedy. The campaign took off after that, and that was the beginning of the end for McCormack. Kennedy went on to defeat Lodge in the general election.
For all of the Kennedy alumni involved in the ‘62 campaign, it was a very tough, hard-fought campaign but also the most exciting, enjoyable part of their lives.
And the rest is history.