An article by Ken Simmons


Interview with Kennedy suggested from an article that chronicles my radio career entitled: Radio Years (click on) http://radioyears.com/other/details.cfm?lid=8&id=678  


In 1976, before the Democratic Primary race was held, there were many high-ranking politicians gathered at the Walt Disney Resort Hotel in Orlando. During my radio career as a broadcast journalist and News Director at WVFM Radio in Lakeland, Florida I had gained a reputation for being able to secure exclusive (private) interviews with most of those I questioned. That included an interview with Jimmy Carter, with whom I had a private lunch, a 90-minute in-studio interview with Rosalyn Carter, and several private interviews and meetings with my friend, Senator then later Governor Lawton Chiles of Florida. That was also the case when I interviewed U. S. Senator *Ted Kennedy, brother of John F. Kennedy at the Walt Disney Resort Hotel.


To avoid the crowds and the throng of reporters we had secured an ante room to the side and there was no one else in the room but the senator, his aide (I later learned that his aide was also his bodyguard), and myself. The interview was progressing nicely. I asked him about the rumors that his mother, Rose Kennedy, had misgivings about his seeking the presidency in light of the assassinations of both John F. Kennedy in 1963, and then the slaying of Robert Kennedy, who had just won the California Primary for president in 1968. He replied that he was aware of his mother's concerns but that he was his "own man" and he would decide soon. Senator Kennedy knew that if he sought the U.S. Presidency he would first have to beat Jimmy Carter in the primary race for the Democratic Party. 


Following discussions concerning fund-raising efforts and his chances in the primary against Governor Carter, when I asked him the following question the atmosphere in the room changed dramatically. I asked,


"Senator Kennedy, if you do decide to challenge Jimmy Carter in the primary, and then should you become president, are you prepared for the inevitable questions you will get from the world media regarding Mary Jo Kopechne and Chappaquiddick, since the press has not been willing to let this issue go? At that point the senator's face got beet red, and he signaled to the other man in the room and that man tried to pick me up, then started shoving me and as he was pushing me out of the room I shouted,


"Senator, if you can't handle questions like this now from me how will you handle the world media when they ask you about it?"


Mary Jo Kopechne was killed when she and the senator left a party on Martha's Vineyard on July 18, 1969 and the senator's Oldsmobile ran off a bridge and sank into the water. Controversy surrounded the events of that night, especially since Kennedy failed to contact authorities for some 10 hours after the car went into the water. Although the official report indicated Ms. Kopechne drowned, the scuba diver who recovered her body from the car said she had a pocket of air in the car that could have sustained her for hours, and he further stated that she did not drown, but she suffocated. The coroner also confirmed that the 28-year-old Ms. Kopechne suffocated, although this information was withheld from the public for many years.


It turned out that Democratic voters felt the trust issue was more important than the Kennedy name and Jimmy Carter won the Democratic Primary and eventually defeated Gerald Ford in the general election to become the 39th president of the United States.


*Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy died on August 25, 2009 of brain cancer.