Paul Kirk, a Kennedy confidant, to fill vacant Senate seat

The appointment of Paul Kirk to Ted Kennedy's seat means Democrats will have their 60-seat filibuster-proof majority when the Senate votes on a healthcare bill this fall.

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    Former Democratic National Committee chairman Paul Kirk Jr. listens after being introduced by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick as his interim US Senate appointee in Boston Thursday. Kirk will be the interim Senate appointee filling the seat vacated by the late Senator Edward Kennedy.
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Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has chosen the late Ted Kennedy's longtime friend, Paul Kirk Jr., to temporarily hold the vacant US Senate seat.

“He was a close and loyal adviser and confident to Senator Kennedy,” Governor Patrick said of Mr. Kirk at press conference announcing his decision Thursday morning.

Kirk’s appointment garnered praise from the White House. “Paul Kirk is a distinguished leader, whose long collaboration with Senator Kennedy makes him an excellent, interim choice to carry on his work until the voters make their choice in January,” President Obama said in a statement.

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Kirk, who has not previously held public office, will serve in the Senate until Massachusetts voters select a replacement to serve out the remainder of Kennedy’s term in a Jan. 19 special election.

Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, and his son, Edward Kennedy Jr., were in attendance at Thursday’s announcement, as was Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts.

Kirk called the appointment a “profound honor” and confirmed that he will not be a candidate in January’s special election.

Patrick’s appointment will mean that Democrats are likely to have the necessary 60 votes to beat a Republican filibuster on healthcare reform.

Kirk is currently chairman of board of the John F. Kennedy Library and is also on the board of the future Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate, which will draw upon Kennedy’s extensive files to serve as an educational resource about the Senate.

Though Kirk has never held elected office, he has long been active within the Democratic Party. He was chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1985 to 1989 and Kennedy’s chief of staff during the 1970s. He is also co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which he co-founded and which has organized every major presidential and vice presidential debate since 1988.

But Kirk’s appointment is not without controversy.

Kirk has previously registered as a lobbyist working on behalf of Hoechst Corp. in 1998 and Aventis in 1999. Both companies are in the pharmaceutical and health products industries.

“There are no conflicts that I hold,” Kirk said Thursday in response to questions about his lobbying activities.

But his credentials as a lobbyist, especially one involved in healthcare industry, are sure to ruffle some feathers inside and outside Washington, given that a healthcare reform bill is expected to come before the Senate this fall.

Still, Kirk’s close ties with Kennedy are likely to help ease his transition.

At Kennedy’s memorial service at the JFK Library shortly after his death, Kirk offered the first remembrance. He spoke of Kennedy’s “patriotic service to his commonwealth and country and his countless contributions to the human spirit.”

He also called Kennedy “the most thoughtful, genuinely considerate human being I have ever known.”

Kirk will also be aided in his transition by Kennedy’s staff, who he announced Thursday will assume work for him.

Under current Senate rules, a senator’s office must close within 60 days after a senator leaves office. This had prompted concern about the over 800 constituent cases currently open with Kennedy’s office. Kirk’s appointment means that Kennedy’s staff can continue work on these cases.

Kirk will take the Senate oath of office Friday.

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