Kennedy Forged Close Ties in the Valley

August 26, 2009 8:59:52 PM PDT
Senator Ted Kennedy's alliance with the United Farm Workers Union and its founders dates back several decades. Coincidently, last night his son, Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy was in Santa Rosa meeting with UFW members when he got the dreaded phone call ... his father had passed away. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said, "I left him off at the airport and both him and I embraced and he was crying at that point and then I started." Rodriguez's friendship with the late Senator dates back to 1980 when Cesar Chavez and his army of field workers jumped on board Kennedy's presidential campaign. The Senator never made it to the White House but Rodriguez believes it allowed him to focus on important issues in California. He said, "Whether it was minimum wage, healthcare, or immigration he was involved in all the major legislation in the last 3 or 4 decades now. So he has a tremendous legacy."

Rodriguez treasures a copy of the speech Kennedy read at the UFW's first constitutional convention in Fresno in 1973 and calls it an "important part of history."

Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the UFW met Kennedy in California in the 1960's. She'll never forget his generosity when she called him in 1969 with news that Cesar Chavez was gravely ill. She said, "He sent out his doctor who came out and cured Cesar. That's the kind of person he was, I could just pick up the phone in California and get an appointment with him the next day." Huerta says Kennedy stayed in the same motel with farm workers the night before a big march. "He came over and knocked on the door saying 'ok Cesar what do you want me to do, what do you want me to say?' He was one of those great people that said what can I do for you?"

Valley Congressman Jim Costa was saddened by his colleague's death. He said, "I think Senator Kennedy reflected the passing of that torch of renewed hope in America, that given the ingenuity and hard work of all Americans almost anything is possible."

Rodriguez says he's been invited to Kennedy's funeral and that his son Patrick has promised to continue his father's lifelong mission of fighting for worker's rights.

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