AP Political Writer BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick named former Democratic Party chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. to the late Edward Kennedy's Senate seat Thursday and said the rushed, temporary appointment was necessary because the issues before Congress were "too important to Massachusetts for us to be one voice short."
The interim appointment allows President Barack Obama to regain a critical 60th U.S. Senate vote he may need to pass a healthcare overhaul—his top domestic priority.
Kirk, a Kennedy family friend, served on the senator's staff for eight years and is chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. Kennedy's widow, Vicki Kennedy, and son Edward Kennedy Jr. had urged Patrick to pick Kirk and attended the announcement at the Massachusetts Statehouse.
"He (Sen. Kennedy) often said that representing the people of Massachusetts in the Senate of the United States was the highest honor that he could possibly imagine, and it is certainly nothing that I imagined, but it will be my highest honor, as well," said Kirk. He was immediately setting off with Patrick to shake hands at a western Massachusetts fair, and he will be sworn in Friday afternoon.
Patrick's appointment means Kirk will serve in the interim post until voters pick a replacement in a Jan. 19 special election. Kirk said he would not be a candidate in the special election.
This week, lawmakers gave Patrick the appointment power, five years after taking that power away when Republican Mitt Romney was in office. The legislation did not take effect immediately, so Patrick had to sign an emergency letter Thursday to make the appointment right away.
"I am pleased that Massachusetts will have its full representation in the U.S. Senate in the coming months, as important issues such as healthcare, financial reform and energy will be debated," Obama said in a statement. "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."
Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, said Kirk's "wisdom, kindness and integrity mean the world to the entire Kennedy family."
Vicki Kennedy said after the appointment: "I certainly told (Patrick) of the high esteem with which the entire Kennedy family held Paul Kirk, but this was always the governor's decision."
Edward Kennedy Jr. said: "He knows my father, he knows my father's staff, he knows the people of Massachusetts and, I think, you ask anyone, Democrat or Republican, and you'll find out there's no one more respected to do this job."
Kennedy died Aug. 25 after a yearlong battle with brain cancer. Kirk was master of ceremonies last month for a memorial service the evening before Kennedy's funeral.
The 71-year-old is a Boston attorney who also has been a registered lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies. He said Thursday he would resign from his board positions, including at Hartford Financial Services, known colloquially as "The Hartford." It sells life and property insurance.
Federal records show Kirk registered as a lobbyist a decade ago. While Kirk would be banned from lobbying for two years after his appointment ends, he would retain Senate floor privileges, the honorific title "senator" and a coveted Capitol Hill parking space for life.
Kirk said that while he had represented "a couple of pharmaceutical firms" as recently as 2002, he no longer works as a lobbyist and has no conflicts of interest.
Kirk also has been helping with efforts to raise money for a Senate institute named for Kennedy. Organizers have been criticized for accepting donations from the healthcare industry while Kennedy and the White House pushed for an industry overhaul.
The senator-designate graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School and served on Kennedy's staff between 1969 and 1977. He ran the Democratic National Committee in the run-up to former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis' unsuccessful run for president in 1988.