[Congressional Record Volume 144, Number 119 (Thursday, September 10, 1998)]
[Pages S10219-S10220]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                       TRIBUTE TO KIRK O'DONNELL

 Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, this morning I joined Senator 
Kennedy and hundreds of mourners from Massachusetts and around the 
country, to pay our last respects to our friend Kirk O'Donnell and to 
offer our sincere condolences to Kirk's wife, Kathy, and their two 
children, Holly and Brendan. For all of us who knew and admired Kirk, 
this was a difficult morning at the Holy Name Church in West Roxbury, 
difficult to say goodbye to a special friend who left us too soon. But 
Mr. President, I believe everyone in attendance this morning at the 
funeral services took some comfort in the way that friends and family 
alike--and Kirk had both many friends and a tight-knit family--came 
together to share our personal recollections of Kirk. It was striking 
to see just how deeply everyone respected Kirk O'Donnell, the many ways 
in which he touched so many lives.
  Kirk O'Donnell made a deep impact on those who knew him, certainly, 
but he also made a difference for millions of people in this country 
who never met him, but whose lives are better because of his life of 
committed service. Three articles in today's newspapers, one by Al Hunt 
of the Wall Street Journal, another by Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe 
and yet another by Susan Estrich of the Boston Herald, stood out in my 
mind as testimony to the legacy Kirk O'Donnell left behind in this 
country. Al Hunt, Tom Oliphant, and Susan Estrich knew Kirk O'Donnell 
as a friend and they performed a great service in capturing Kirk's 
essence, the depth of a man who never stopped fighting for those causes 
in which he believed. I know that, as we all say goodbye to Kirk 
O'Donnell this week, those articles provide both comfort for those who 
knew Kirk, and inspiration for those who, even in these troubled 
political times in the United States, still believe in the dignity of 
public service.
  Mr. President, I would ask that these articles be printed in the 
  The articles follow:

             [From the Wall Street Journal, Sept. 10, 1998]

            The Loss of a Talented, Decent and Honorable Man

                          (By Albert R. Hunt)

       Kirk O'Donnell, one of the ablest and most honorable people 
     in American politics, died suddenly last weekend at the 
     altogether too young age of 52. Even in grieving, it's 
     somehow hard not to think how different the Clinton 
     presidency might have been if Kirk O'Donnell had been a top 
     White House adviser starting in 1993.
       He combined the best virtues of the old and the new 
     politics. Raised in the rough-and-tumble environs of Boston 
     tribal warfare, he never saw politics as anything but a 
     contact sport. But he always practiced it with decency and 
       He was a great student of political history, which better 
     enabled him to appreciate contemporary changes. There was a 
     pragmatism to Kirk O'Donnell that never conflicted with his 
     commitment and total integrity.
       Success never changed him. He founded the influential 
     Center for National Policy (his successor as its chair was 
     Madeleine Albright) and then became a partner in the high-
     powered law firm of Vernon Jordan and Bob Strauss. But his 
     values and devotion to family, friends and country were 
     remarkably constant.
       ``He was a big oak tree of a friend,'' notes Stanley Brand, 
     a Washington lawyer, of the former Brown University football 
     star, a description which Mr. O'Donnell used to joke, was an 
       He cut his political teeth working for Mayor Kevin White in 
     Boston in the mid-70s, running the neighborhood city halls, 
     developing an appreciation of the relationships between 
     common folks and government that would serve him well for the 
     next quarter century. Then there were more than seven years 
     as chief counsel to House Speaker Tip O'Neill.
       There was an exceptional triumvirate of top aides to the 
     speaker: Leo Diehl, his longtime colleague who was the link 
     to the past and the gatekeeper who kept away the hangers-on; 
     Ari Weiss, although only in his twenties, unrivaled as a 
     policy expert; and Kirk O'Donnell, in his early thirties, who 
     brought political, legal and foreign policy expertise to the 
     table, always with superb judgment.
       Through it may seem strange in today's Congress, he 
     commanded real respect across the aisle. ``Kirk was really a 
     tough, bright opponent; he was a great strategist because he 
     didn't let his emotions cloud his judgment,'' recalls Billy 
     Pitts, who was Mr. O'Donnell's Republican counterpart working 
     with GOP House Leader Bob Michel. ``But he always was a 
     delight to be around and his word was gold.''
       When the Democrats were down, routed by the Reagan 
     revolution in 1981, it was Kirk O'Donnell who put together a 
     strategy memorandum advising the party to lay off esoteric 
     issues and not to refight the tax issues but to focus on 
     social security and jobs. It was the blueprint for a big 
     Democratic comeback the next year. When then Republican 
     Congressman Dick Cheney criticized the speaker for tough 
     partisanship, Mr. O'Donnell immediately turned it around by 
     citing a book that Rep. Cheney and his wife had written on 
     House leaders that praised the same qualities that he now was 
       For operated as well at that intersection of substance and 
     politics, or understood both as well. He played a major role 
     in orchestrating a powerful contingent of Irish-American 
     politicians, including the speaker, to oppose pro-Irish 
     groups espousing violence. ``Kirk put the whole Irish thing 
     together,'' the speaker said.
       He was staunchly liberal on the responsibility of 
     government to care for those in need or equal rights. But he 
     cringed when Democrats veered off onto fringe issues, and 
     never forgot the lessons learned running neighborhood city 
     halls in his 20's. Family values to Kirk O'Donnell wasn't a 
     political buzzword or cliche, but a reality of life; there 
     never has been a more loving family than Kirk and Kathy 
     O'Donnell and their kids, Holly and Brendan.
       The Clinton administration made job overtures to Kirk 
     O'Donnell several times but they were never commensurate with 
     his talents. He should have been either Chief of Staff or 
     legal counsel from the very start of this administration. He 
     would have brought experience, expertise, maturity, judgment, 
     toughness--intimate knowledge of the way Washington works--
     that nobody else in that White House possessed.
       But sadly, that's not what this president sought. For Kirk 
     O'Donnell wouldn't have tolerated dissembling. He never was 
     unfaithful to those he worked for but ``spinning''--as in 
     situational truths--was foreign to him. When working for the 
     speaker of Michael Dukakis in 1988, he would dodge, bob, 
     sometimes talk gibberish but never, in hundreds of interviews 
     with me, did he ever dissemble.
       The contrast between this and someone like Dick Morris, who 
     Mr. Clinton continuously turned to, is striking. This was 
     brought home anew when Mr. Morris, the former top Clinton 
     aide, wrote a letter seeming to take issue with a column I 
     wrote a few weeks ago.
       For starters, he erroneously denied that he suggested 
     Hillary Clinton is a lesbian. More substantively, Mr. Morris 
     says that Mr. Clinton called him when the Lewinsky story 
     broke and had him do a poll to gauge reaction. He did that 
     and told Mr. Clinton the public wouldn't accept the truth. 
     Although Mr. Morris turned over what he says is that poll to 
     Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, some of us question 
     whether the survey was genuine.
       The infamous political consultant swears he sampled 500 
     people, asked 25 to 30 questions and did it all out of own 
     pocket for $2,000. If true, it was a slipshod survey upon 
     which the president reportedly decided to stake his word. 
     (Only days later, Mr. Clinton swore at a private White Hose 
     meeting that he hadn't spoken to Mr. Morris in ages.)
       There was no more an astute analyst of polls than Kirk 
     O'Donnell. He would pepper political conversations with 
     survey data. But because he understood history and had such 
     personal honor he always understood a poll was a snapshot, 
     often valuable. But it never could be a substitute for 
     principle or morality or integrity.
       There were currencies of his professional and personal 
     life. These no longer are commonplace commodities in 
     politics, which is one of many reasons that the passing of 
     this very good man is such a loss.

                [From the Boston Globe, Sept. 10, 1998]

                   He Stood for Politics at its Best

                          (By Thomas Oliphant)

       He was arguably the best mayor Boston never had, among a 
     handful of people who mattered most to the turbulent city of 
     the 1970's.
       No one did more for the House of Representatives over the 
     last generation who was never elected to it, no history of 
     national affairs in the 1980s is complete without his large 
       The last four presidents have known all about his special 
     gifts and felt their impact;

[[Page S10220]]

     the two Democrats (the completely different Jimmy Carter and 
     Bill Clinton) had more than one occasion to depend on them 
     big time.
       On an average day he could get your brother a fair shot at 
     the police force, help repair Social Security, broker the 
     biggest tax bill of modern times, keep the Big Dig's cash 
     coming, and still make it home for supper.
       All across the intersections where politics and government 
     meet in the interests of real people, the shock and pain at 
     Kirk O'Donnell's death over the Labor Day weekend is the only 
     recent event to unite Republicans, congressional Democrats, 
     and Clintonities in this season of shame and ugliness.
       You'd think all this emotion concerned a senior statesman 
     passing on after a long lifetime of service, the occasion for 
     a proud-sad moment to celebrate a life lived magnificently.
       But the shock and pain arrived like a rusty blade in the 
     gut because O'Donnell was only 52; he did things in his 30s 
     and 40s that big shots in their 60s never accomplished. But 
     the best was still ahead of him, and the sky was the limit; 
     if the Democrats ever elect another president, a Cabinet post 
     or chief of the White House staff would have been lateral 
     movements for him.
       This is the kind of death that shakes your faith, making it 
     all the more important to reaffirm it. And the fact is this 
     blend of Dorchester and D.C., of Boston Latin and Brown was a 
     walking reaffirmation of faith in the potential of public 
     service, a shining example of the silent majority who don't 
     broker votes for cash, check their principles at the front 
     desk, ignore their families, welsh on their commitments, 
     indulge their whims and their urges, lie, and shirk. His life 
     demonstrates that at the end only two things matter--whether 
     your word's any good and how you treat others.
       Two stories: Kevin Hagen White gets the credit for 
     discovering him in the early years of decentralized 
     innovation and leadership and hope for the racially polarized 
     town. By 1975, the young political junkie who could explain 
     Boston by precinct or by parish was entrusted with White's 
     third-term reelection campaign.
       It was the roughest, ugliest, closest fight in modern 
     Boston times. The people involved, despite all they've done 
     since, still get together to tell the old stories and refight 
     the old shouting matches. The one reputation that was 
     enhanced by the bruising experience was O'Donnell's, for 
     focusing like a laser beam on organizing the White vote and 
     focusing on Joe Timilty's lack of a clear alternative.
       After it was over and he was down in Washington with Tip 
     O'Neill, it was increasingly clear that his former boss had 
     lost his fastball. Again and again, from the shadows of the 
     speaker's rooms in the Capitol, O'Donnell saw to Boston's 
     interests. He would happily recount to me the stories of 
     program formulas rejiggered to benefit the cities, of special 
     items in appropriations bills (worth billions of dollars over 
     time) as long as I understood that if I used his name in 
     public he would rip my lungs out.
       Just for the record, O'Donnell was more than enough of a 
     city lover and urban scholar to know about subway analogies 
     in politics. But he was the guy, in 1981, who called Social 
     Security the third rail of American politics; few lines have 
     been ripped off more. But he did it to make a point--that 
     Ronald Reagan had touched it by reaching beyond his mandate 
     to try to slash future benefits in a partisan initiative. 
     With the help of the worst recession in 50 years, he and 
     Speaker O'Neill pounced on that goof to effectively end the 
     Reagan Revolution.
       But that same skill was then put to use on the speaker's 
     behalf to help broker a bipartisan repair job that has lasted 
     15 years and made the next stage of generational common sense 
     possible. He was to Congress in the 1980s what Jim Baker was 
     to the Reagan White House.
       He was a big guy, with a big voice he rarely used except to 
     laugh. Everyone trusted him. There are tears being shed today 
     in saloons and salons, in boardrooms and in back rooms. Kirk 
     O'Donnell's life demonstrates the power of the haunting 
     challenge made famous by the Kennedys, that all of us can 
     make a difference and that each of us should try.

                [From the Boston Herald, Sept. 10, 1998]

                      O'Donnell, Best of the Breed

                           (By Susan Estrich)

       A good man died on Saturday. He had a big smile, a big 
     laugh and a great deal of power over the years. He used it 
       Ask people what they think of politics today, and the 
     answer is generally not suitable for children to hear. The 
     only things worse than politicians are the handlers and hacks 
     who try to tell them what to do and us what to think, and 
     then turn around and make money trashing their boss and the 
     business they were in.
       Kirk O'Donnell wasn't like that. He gave politics a good 
       Kirk was 52 when he died, jogging near his summer home in 
     Scituate. He lived in Washington for most of his adult life 
     and advised some of its most powerful men, but he was 
     definitely a boy of Boston, and its politics--the way it 
     should be.
       He made his name working for Mayor Kevin White, who had 
     promised to bring government to the people, which he did by 
     creating ``little city halls'' in Boston's neighborhoods. 
     Kirk's was a trailer in Fields Corner, where he helped 
     working people who had no contacts or connections to be 
     treated as if they did. He negotiated the system for them; he 
     was their powerful friend and you didn't need a PAC to get 
     his attention.
       Later, working for Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill (a 
     Cambridge resident), he said he had learned what he needed to 
     know about Congress working at Fields Corner. I'm certain 
     that he didn't just mean the business of politics--of phone 
     calls and favors and chits to be spent--although given 
     Congress, that is the most obvious meaning. For Kirk, the 
     more important part of the lesson had to be about what 
     politics is for.
       Most people in politics work on either issues or politics, 
     but not both. In this world, issues people tend to be viewed 
     as nerds and wonks, a clear step beneath the gunslingers who 
     do the politics and tell the speechwriters what to write. 
     Kirk played both parts with equal ease; he was as good at one 
     as the other, a rare combination that he used to bring 
     legitimacy to the world of substance and substance to the 
     world of politics. After his stint in the speaker's office, 
     when he could have had any political job in town, he decided 
     to help build a think-tank instead, giving the Center for 
     National Policy a legitimacy that came from the fact that 
     Kirk was heading it.
       In 1988, I literally begged him to come to Boston to help 
     me in the presidential campaign of Gov. Michael Dukakis. We 
     were still doing well in the polls, but our communications 
     problems were internal as well as external. He could see it 
     when he came to talk to Dukakis and me. I was honest. To 
     some, at the time, it certainly must have looked like a dream 
     position: join the campaign of the nominee, who is heading 
     for the convention and telling you that you are to be his 
     chief political adviser. But Kirk knew better, and so did I. 
     We needed him; he didn't need us.
       It turned out worse than we anticipated. Kirk could have 
     spent a good deal of time explaining to the press, on 
     background to be sure, how the campaign's biggest gaffes were 
     contrary to his advice, how he had argued for this or that, 
     written the lines himself or never even had the opportunity 
     to--as the president's aides do regularly these days. But he 
     never did. He never would. He grew up in Boston, where 
     loyalty means standing by people when they're wrong and 
     working for someone means being loyal to him.
       Kirk leaves two children behind. Losing a father is 
     terrible at any age, but when he is young and you need him, 
     and he is a man like Kirk, it is an especially acute pain. I 
     lost my father when he was 54, and I know all the trite 
     sayings about how some people live a lifetime in a few years, 
     and they inspire others and live on through their friends and 
       It is all true, but it is still not enough. Time does heal; 
     deaths become part of our history. But the sad truth is that 
     a good man died on Saturday, and he will be much missed, as 
     he was much loved and respected.