In 1962, Edward M. Kennedy won a U.S. Senate seat in Mass­a­chu­setts in his first try at elec­tive office. That same year, a young Har­vard Law grad­uate from Brook­line, Mass., named Michael Dukakis ran for and won a seat in the state leg­is­la­ture. During the ensuing 47 years, the two men shared a pro­gres­sive ide­ology, a lengthy his­tory of polit­ical tri­umphs and tra­vails, and a per­sonal friend­ship. Now a Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence at North­eastern, Dukakis talked yes­terday about his rela­tion­ship with the late sen­ator and the impact of his passing on the cur­rent national debate over uni­versal health care, the pas­sion of Kennedy’s polit­ical career.

How would you sum up Ted Kennedy as a politi­cian?
He was the whole package for me, a remark­able com­bi­na­tion of per­sonal com­mit­ment and pas­sion for the job, and skills, leg­isla­tive ability. He never would start a policy ini­tia­tive without get­ting a Repub­lican cosponsor.

You know, after Bill Clinton went down to defeat on his 1993 health care plan, he and Ted got together to see what could be done, and decided, OK we’ll start with the kids, so they came up with this children’s health plan. And Kennedy, as you might guess, was the prin­cipal cosponsor in the Senate.

[Repub­lican Senate Majority Leader] Trent Lott knew that Kennedy was looking for a Repub­lican cosponsor. Kennedy had this long-​​standing per­sonal friend­ship with [Utah Repub­lican] Orrin Hatch, and when Lott found out that Hatch had agreed to cosponsor the bill, he was just furious. But they put it through—raised the fed­eral cig­a­rette tax from 24 cents to 67 cents and put it through. That was Kennedy.

Do you remember the first time you worked with him polit­i­cally?
I’m sure we prob­ably did some things together in the Six­ties. But people ask me, “What are your favorite Kennedy sto­ries?” and I’ve got two.

I was first elected gov­ernor in ’74, I was defeated by Ed King in ’78, so there was the great rematch in 1982, in the Demo­c­ratic pri­mary. King was the incum­bent Demo­c­ratic gov­ernor, albeit a con­ser­v­a­tive one; he later switched par­ties. Still, there was no reason for Teddy to come out 10 days before that elec­tion and endorse my can­di­dacy, but he did.

Did you ever ask him about it?
He just thought it was the right thing to do, very sim­ilar to when he endorsed Obama in 2008. He was close to the Clin­tons, and I know they were very hurt and dis­ap­pointed, but he did it anyway. And I know his endorse­ment was just as cru­cial for Obama then as it was for me in 1982.

My other favorite memory came about when I signed the uni­versal health care bill in 1988. I’ll never forget when Teddy called me, he was just so proud—of me, of Sec­re­tary of Health and Human Ser­vices Phil John­ston, of the state. He was incred­ibly proud that his state was the first in the nation to enact uni­versal health care.

You served as gov­ernor for 12 years while Ted was in the Senate, so the two of you must have worked together a lot. Does any­thing in par­tic­ular come to mind?
On public trans­porta­tion, which I’m slightly obses­sive about, he was absolutely ter­rific. This was in my first term, and at the time, you could not bust the highway trust fund, the gaso­line tax, you could not use it for public transportation.

I was one of the leaders to fight the so-​​called Master Highway Plan, which would have … cre­ated a California-​​style freeway system, eight lanes of ele­vated highway going right through Fred­erick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Neck­lace, down Rug­gles Street and three feet from the Museum of Fine Arts.
And mean­while, the “T” was just a basket case, it was awful, it would break down three days out of five when I took it to work.

So after a 10-​​year debate, we had killed the Master Highway Plan, and we had given up hun­dreds of mil­lion of dol­lars in fed­eral highway money, but we thought, why can’t we use that for public trans­porta­tion?
And Ted and [former House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr.] were largely respon­sible for making it pos­sible for Mass­a­chu­setts to become the first state in the nation to be able to use fed­eral highway money for public transportation.

We ended up with $3 bil­lion to invest in the “T.” We acquired the entire com­muter rail system in eastern Mass­a­chu­setts for $35 mil­lion, sta­tions, parking lots, tracks, … and we could not have done it without Kennedy and Tip’s leadership.

What will Ted Kennedy’s legacy be—what do you think he’ll stand out for above all?
In a gen­eral way, that he was some­body who knew where he stood, and he lived it, prac­ticed it, did it. He had a very strong phi­los­ophy, which at times was not in vogue. And yet he never wavered at all. I think sub­se­quent events demon­strated clearly that his values and his approach to public ser­vice made a lot more sense than some of the folks who were crit­ical of him.

The one piece he wasn’t able to achieve was his goal of health care for everyone, and I hope we’re going to do that.

You see people at [health care] ral­lies holding signs, saying “Do It 4 Teddy.” How do you think his passing will change the health care debate?
No ques­tion we’d be on our way to a health care bill if Ted Kennedy had been healthy, engaged, and involved. If, for example, there had to be some com­pro­mising on a pure public option, because it was Kennedy, the lib­eral com­mu­nity would accept it because his cre­den­tials there were so strong.
I’m not saying we can’t get a health care bill, but there is no one with the unique set of skills and the respect that he had.

My own view is that the Democ­rats will have 60 votes for clo­ture, assuming Mass­a­chu­setts changes the law and gets someone down there to vote. So what the Democ­rats have to do—not that you don’t keep reaching out to Republicans—is to put together a bill that has solid Demo­c­ratic sup­port, and then you use the 60 votes to close out debate.

But there is going to be some very hard work to do among Senate Democ­rats. Kennedy cer­tainly would have been the glue to hold them together and get this thing passed. Now, other people will have to step up to try to do it.