Musings: Gerry Doherty's Book

By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author


Anyone with an interest in the political history of Boston, of Massachusetts and of the
United States should read a new book, “They Were My Friends – Jack, Bob and Ted.” It
is a memoir by Boston’s most legendary behind-the- scenes political operative of the past
sixty years, Gerard F. Doherty. And it is terrific.
It traces Gerry Doherty’s life from his boyhood in his life-long home in Charletown,
to his years as an all-scholastic football player for Malden Catholic, his two-year battle
with tuberculosis, his time as a state representative to his long professional and personal
association with the three Kennedy brothers, Jack, Bob and Ted (Full disclosure: Gerry
Doherty has been a long-time mentor to me, going back more than half a century to his
days as chairman of the Democratic State Committee, when he hired a wet-behind- the-
ears kid as a combination speech writer and PR person).
Do you want to know the inside story of Bobby Kennedy’s near miraculous victory in the
Indiana Presidential Primary of 1968, when he made a last-minute entry, faced with the
open opposition of the state’s governor, the political establishment and the media? Read
this book because Gerry Doherty is the man who orchestrated that victory. Do you want
to know what it’s like when the President of the United States interrupts his busy
schedule to have a dish of ice cream with you? Do you want to know what happens when
Ted Kennedy wants to take a bath and you’re riding with him in a car the middle of
nowhere? Read this book.
Of particular interest is the behind-the- scnes story of the famous Teddy-Eddie debate of
1962. For those of you to young to remember (which is the vast majority of you - and of
the world’s population - since it took place more than fifty-five years ago) here is the
background: When Ted Kennedy first ran for the United States senate his chief opponent
was Massachusetts Attorney General Edward McCormack, who happened to be the
nephew and surrogate son of Speaker of the House John W. McCormack. Think about
that for a moment, the brother of the President of the United States facing off against the
favorite nephew of the Speaker of the House - the two most powerful Democrats in
America involved on opposite sides of a primary campaign. I’m still puzzled as to why
no one ever made a major motion picture about it. To say that emotions ran high is like
saying that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton don’t exchange Christmas cards, it doesn’t
begin to tell the story.

Eddie McCormack was the more experienced of the two candidates, he was just
completing the second of two very successful terms as state attorney general, he’d made a
name for himself and he was a very attractive candidate. Ted was just thirty years old, the
bare minimum to serve in the senate, but he was not only a Kennedy, but also he turned
out to be the most politically gifted of all the brothers, the one who most embodied the
showman-like qualities of their maternal grandfather, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, the
lengendary two-term Boston mayor. For all the advantages Eddie had, Teddy’s
outweighed them.
As the campiagn turned to the home stretch Kennedy had opened up a lead but
McCormack had one last chance - a debate was scheduled to be held at South Boston
High School, McCormack’s home turf. The venue appeared to be a mistake on the part of
the Kennedy campaign but it was actually a stroke of genius; it set up Ted, the candidate
with the most advantages and all the momentum, as the one going into the lion’s den, the
underdog. Did I tell you that the manager of Ted’s campaign and the one who suggested
Southie as the location was Gerry Doherty?
About the only issue separating the two candidates was this: Is Teddy Ready?
He was. He’d been campaigning for months, he’d been boning up on the issues, and he’d
been well briefed. In the debate he more than held his own. As it wound down to its
conclusion, McCormack, clearly frustrated by his sinking campaign, delivered what he
hoped would be a knockout blow. He turned to Kennedy and pointing an accusatory
finger he literally snarled, “If his name was Edward Moore with his qualifications, with
your qualifications, Teddy, if it was Edwrad Moore, your candidacy would be a joke, but
nobody’s laughing because it’s not Edward Moore, it’s Edward Moore Kennedy.”
The drama of the surprise attack was breath-taking. The crowd in the auditorium sat for a
moment in stunned silence but then, it being the heart of McCormack country, broke into
wild applause. As for Kennedy, he was enraged and had trouble holding himself in check
while delivering his closing statement. At the debate’s conclusion the first person at
Ted’s side was his friend Gerry Doherty. The first thing Kennedy said was, “I’d like to go
punch him in the nose.” Doherty could see that he wasn’t kidding and quickly hustled
him outside before things got worse.
The crowd of McCormack partisans in the hall thought Eddie had delivered the knockout
punch he needed, but it was Eddie himself whose candidacy and political career suffered
most from his attack. To the hundreds of thousands watching on television he came
across as mean-spirited and nasty. And people had learned to like Ted Kennedy. If
McCormack’s campaign was in trouble before the debate it was dead by the time it was
over. It wasn’t so much what Eddie had said that turned off voters, it was the way that he
said it, with his lip curled in a sneer. The primary itself was an anti-climax. Kennedy won
by a margin of more than two to one.

Teddy and Eddie were both professionals and good guys and they quickly patched up
their differences once the camapaign was over. In fact they became good friends in the
ensuing years, even as their supporters held onto and nursed their grudges.
Post script: When Eddie McCormack died in 1997 those attending his funeral gasped
when his eulogist rose to delver rose to deliver his tribute to the deceased. It was Ted
Kennedy. He won the congregation over, even the most skeptical, by declaring at the
outset, “I’ve been baptized twice in my life. The first time was in Saint Patrick’s
Cathedral when I was a few weeks old. The second time was my baptism into Boston
politics in 1962 when I ran against Eddie McCormack.” The entire congregation broke
into laughter and applause and so ended, thirty-five years after the fact, the Teddy-Eddie
Anyhow, do yourself a favor and read Gerry Doherty’s book. You’ll be glad you did.