Remembering Ted Kennedy's Visits to Oregon

By Grant Schott of Fossil, Oregon. Grant is a long-time union organizer and political activist. Previously, he contributed "Book Review: Betty Roberts, An Oregon Pioneer".

Although he only campaigned briefly in Oregon during his one presidential campaign, Oregon’s status as one of the few primary states when his brothers were running for president brought Ted Kennedy to Oregon as a young man before he was a U.S. Senator. My accounts here, especially of Teddy’s Oregon visits during the JFK and RFK campaigns, are incomplete, and I hope that other Blue Oregon readers will fill in the blanks.

Ted Kennedy was the campaign director of 13 Western States for the 1960 John Kennedy campaign, but Oregon was the only one with a primary that JFK entered. There was no doubt any number of appearances by Teddy. I am aware of one in The Dalles approximately a week before the May 20, 1960 Oregon primary. I had seen a photo taken by a late relative of mine from The Dalles of the two brothers posting with another relative. I found an article describing the event on The Dalles Chronicle microfilm. As told there, the Kennedy brothers drove up the Gorge with State Senator Monroe Sweetland, who was a Kennedy campaign coordinator, after an event in Gresham. They spoke to a packed reception at the old Hotel The Dalles. JFK’s voice was weak from non-stop campaigning, so Teddy spoke for him. JFK easily defeated Oregon Senator Wayne Morse in the primary, the last of his seven consecutive primary wins.

My cousin Jan Wagennar from Portland worked for the Bobby Kennedy campaign in Oregon in 1968 as a treasurer. She described to me a great memory she had during that campaign of a relatively small reception she attended for Ted with labor union leaders in the basement bar of the old Labor Center Building in SW Portland, nor far from PSU. As she described they sat around a big round table and enjoyed a number of rounds. As we know, RKF lost the Oregon primary to Eugene McCarthy by a relatively narrow margin.

Caroline Wilkins recalled that when she was Democratic Party of Oregon chair in 1973, she arranged for an add-on event when Kennedy was coming to Portland to speak at a meeting of the National Education Association. Kennedy agreed to be the drawing card for a DPO fundraiser at the Hilton Hotel on June 30th, 1973 and his appearance drew a capacity crowd of 600.

Strong but eventually misleading polls numbers drew Kennedy into the 1980 race for the Democratic Nomination. By May 1980, Kennedy was clearly not going to win the nomination, but soldiered on to the convention. An initial plan for three days of campaigning in Oregon was cut back to one. Kennedy flew into Portland on the night of Thursday May 15, 1979 and spoke to The Portland City Club the following day. The photo I saw of Kennedy at that event shows Kennedy standing next to a woman who I am almost sure was Barbara Roberts (elected that year to the State House) although she was not identified by name. Kennedy and his entourage departed for Eugene and flew over Mt Saint Helens just two days before its massive eruption, as recalled in Bob Shrum’s memoir, No Excuses.

Kennedy spoke to a group of lumber mill workers in Springfield and at his Eugene Kennedy headquarters, and made an appearance at a Special Olympics meet at Hayward Field with Governor Victor Atiyeh and actress Jill St. John. Kennedy then spoke at a rally on the UO campus that had been planned and advertised by his UO supporters, but unauthorized by Kennedy’s campaign. The Oregon Journal put a picture of Kennedy addressing that crowd on its front that night and endorsed Kennedy, while the Oregonian endorsed Carter. On Tuesday, May 20th, Carter won the Oregon primary with 57% of the vote to 31% for Kennedy (California Governor Jerry Brown had dropped out but won 9 %.)

Kennedy’s 13 Oregon delegates out of a total of 39 included State Senator Keith Burbidge of Marion CO., State Rep. Dave McTeague of Clackamas County, and State Rep. Ron Eachus of Lane County. A Kennedy alternate was LarryAnn Willis from Malheur County, who ran spirited campaigns against Congressman Bob Smith in 1982 and 1984. They were lucky enough to hear in person one of the great convention speeches ever that Kennedy delivered on August 12, 1980.

Kennedy had an unplanned overnight layover stop in Portland in December 1985, just days after his announcement of non-candidacy for 1988. That was likely Kennedy’s last visit to Oregon, although a fundraiser I’ve heard he did for Brock Adams for U.S. Senate in Vancouver in 1986 likely brought him back to the Portland airport.

Again, please add to this historical record and share your memories of appearances that Ted Kennedy made in Oregon.

  • Wrench Monkey (unverified)

    A hollow ring from the Memory Hole:

    Teddy Kennedy the Hollow Champion:

    "Though the obituarists have glowingly evoked Kennedy's 46-year stint in the US Senate and, as 'the last liberal', his mastery of the legislative process, they miss the all-important fact that it was out of Kennedy's Senate office that came two momentous slabs of legislation that signalled the onset of the neo-liberal era: deregulation of trucking and aviation. They were a disaster for organized labor and the working conditions and pay of people in those industries."

    Add to Teddy's other "acomplishments": Stephen Breyer, Supreme Court unswerving shill for the corporate sector; NAFTA; 'No Child Left Behind'; opposition to single payer health care; "free" trade.

    See also: Kennedy's Sins Against Labor>

  • Grant Schott (unverified)

    Whoops, I meant May 15, 1980, of course, not 1979.

    Judy Sugnet, a Kennedy '80 delegate who works for Rep Brad Witt, told me that she met Ted at the Salem JFK HQ in 1960.

    Some of you who watched "Teddy in his own words" on HBO or shown on CNN repeatedly last weekend, might have noticed the clip of him speaking in Portland in 1960.

    An Oregonian who probably had the most notably Ted Kennedy experience is Jim Rassman from Florence, whose dramatic reuion with John Kerry in Iowa right before the 2004 caucus helped put Kerry over the top. Kennedy and Rassman were a great team as they stumped for Kerry at big rallies the final weekend before the caucus.

  • Grant Schott (unverified)

    I just remembered this article that former State Rep and Metro Commish, Mike Burton, had published in American Heritage Magazine in 1992:

    Kennedy Packs the House

    American Heritage Magazine May/June 1992

    As a college sophomore in 1960, I had little interest in politics except that the woman I was dating was a member of the Young Democrats on campus. Democrats at Oregon State College in those days were a rare commodity, so when the presidential campaign got under way, our little group didn’t expect to be much involved.

    Imagine our surprise, then, when we were asked by the State Central Committee to help play host to Sen. John F. Kennedy when he made a campaign speech in Corvallis. I knew nothing about campaigns or electioneering, so I was given grunt work: nailing up posters, running errands, and stuffing envelopes.

    On the day of Kennedy’s arrival, I was relegated to helping set up the ballroom of the Benton Hotel in Corvallis, where the senator was to make his speech. We worked hard to spruce up the hotel’s grand ballroom with the best red, white, and blue political trappings. I had just stepped back from hanging the last piece of bunting when someone asked me to drive two other young Democrats out to the airport to greet Kennedy’s front man, who for this event was his brother Ted.

    When Ted Kennedy got off the plane, he looked at the three of us and said, “How many of you are here?” I thought he meant Young Democrats, so I said there were two more of us back at the hotel. For a moment I thought he would get back on the plane and go home, but after we explained that we hoped to turn out a big crowd, he came with us.

    At the hotel Ted Kennedy surveyed our lavishly decorated but cavernous ballroom and asked how many people we thought would turn out. The Central Committee folks said they hoped for fifty or sixty and explained that Corvallis was “pretty Republican.”

    Kennedy said that nothing looked worse than a poor turnout and made a decision: we would move the reception into the hallway outside the ballroom. It was a large hallway, but to my mind it was not big enough to hold fifty people plus the news media. I blurted out that there wouldn’t be enough room for everyone. Ted Kennedy looked at me. “I know,” he said.

    This was all beyond me, but I pitched in to move the tables of punch and cookies out into the hallway and tried to string some of the bunting and crepe paper in appropriate places. Then Kennedy gave me an order: Close the ballroom doors, and under no circumstances open them to anyone.

    Soon about thirty people had arrived, and then came the traveling press. Kennedy had arranged platforms at one end of the hallway, and he told the reporters that was their best vantage point for pictures.

    I watched in awe. The newspeople swarmed onto their platform. Cameras and lighting equipment were much larger in those days, so the press took up a great deal of what I could see was becoming very cramped space. Also, the good citizens of Corvallis now numbered almost seventy-five (exceeding our wildest expectations) and began to overflow onto the sidewalk outside.

    When Sen. John F. Kennedy and his entourage arrived, there was barely enough room for them to squeeze into the hallway. The crowd began to applaud, the camera lights came on, and the next President began to work his way through the crowd toward a small dais. As JFK approached my “guard post,” Ted Kennedy introduced me and the other Young Democrats nearby as those who helped organize the event.

    I shook the senator’s hand, and he flashed me that incredible smile. “Boy,” he said, “you sure know how to turn out a crowd.” He went on to give his speech and munch on a few cookies, and then he left for his next event. After he was gone, someone remarked that there were almost a hundred people in the hallway.

    The next day we all gathered around a television set to see how it was reported. The Corvallis stop didn’t get much coverage on national television, but when the film came on I finally realized why Ted Kennedy had made us leave the auditorium. The commentator said something about an enthusiastic crowd at Corvallis while the film showed what looked like hundreds jamming a large area. Jack Kennedy was right. We had turned out quite a crowd, if not in person, at least on film.

    —Mike Burton is a member of the Oregon House of Representatives.

  • Donald kile (unverified)

    I remember Ted Kennedy's 1980 visit to oregon very well. I worked on his campaign at an office on the East end of the Burnside bridge. We made thousands of phone calls, attended several gathering, marched in the St John's parade along side Ted Kennedy jr, where I was mistaken for Ted Kennedy jr and was pictured the next day in the Oregonian with the caption "Ted Kennedy jr marches in St.Johns parade while campaigning for his father, Senator Ted Kennedy". I made several hundred bumper stickers and handed them out in downtown Portland. My car was covered with Kennedy bumper stickers, even had a licence plate made. Drove people around to various events in the area, including a gathering at Oaks Park with Chris Lawford, the Senator's nephew. After the Portland primary was over, I took 2 weeks off work and headed over to Yakima, Washington to scoop up some fresh ash from Mount Saint Helen's and headed to the Kennedy campaign headquarters in San Francisco, where I headed out fresh ash, before going to work on the campaign. Only there a couple of days, I moved on the Los Angles, where the campaign was in full swing. I worked there going a variety of tasks including going errands around the Los Angles area for the campaign. Helped people get to a church where the Senator was speaking, one young guy was so excited about meeting the Senator after the speech he ran around back and right through a plate glass window, OUCH. Another day, I helped people get to the senior center in San Moncia, where the Senator was meeting with seniors in the area. One day i drove out to Pasadena to pick up some audio equipment for an event. The night before the primary we all met at the only black owned establishment on Sunset Blvd. where we met Senator Kennedy and he spoke to us thanking us for all our hard work. I stood next to Freida Payne. It was a very packed house and very nice time. Election day, we gathered at the Biltmore Hotel Grand Ballroom. Several hundred people had gathered there and Maria Shriver spoke to us and thanked us for all our hard work and for victory in California. A short time later, Senator Kennedy called us and said he was sorry that he was not there with us that evening but that due to circumstances of the past, he was in Massachesetts. he thanked us for our hard work and said now on to the convention. It was a very moving and charging experience. And I shall miss him greatly.

    I have moved several times since 1980 and have lost track on my 1980 Oregonian with me pictured as Ted Kennedy jr. Should anyone have an idea where I might locate that newspaper, please let me know. Sincerely, Donald Kile [email protected]

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