Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy died late last night after succumbing to a 15-month long battle with brain cancer. The third-longest serving senator in history, he was warmly known as the liberal lion who fought tirelessly for civil rights, health care and immigration reform.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who joined Kennedy last April when Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Service America Act, said Kennedy stands in a political class of his own.
"There will never be another first family of American politics like the Kennedys, and there will never be another United States Senator like Ted Kennedy," Bloomberg said in a statement. "Inspired by the noblest of ideals – a life of service in pursuit of justice, equality, and peace – Sen. Kennedy’s compassion and charisma were matched only by his extraordinary legislative accomplishments over five decades."
At St. Patrick's Cathedral, where Sen. Kennedy once delivered a eulogy for his brother Robert F. Kennedy, mourners are stopping in for a moment of reflection.
Gov. David Paterson said he learned the news of Sen. Kennedy's passing with "profound grief."
“Senator Kennedy was the Lion of the Senate and one of the most consequential figures of the 20th century...And so today, Americans mourn the loss of our great champion, but we also rejoice in what he lived for," Paterson said.
Beyond Kennedy's stalwart advocacy for his Democratic ideals, the senator was known for his uncanny ability to reach across the aisle to pass critical legislation. He worked with George W. Bush to pass the former president's No Child Left Behind Act and co-sponsored a bill with former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.
Bloomberg praised Kennedy's bipartisan pragmatism.
“Sen. Kennedy was much more than a great liberal lion and master orator. He was a pragmatist who reached across the aisle to pass legislation that has improved the lives of people around the world," Bloomberg said. "But more than all that, I will remember Sen. Kennedy as a gracious and generous man, a man with a big heart and a ready laugh, a man who endured terrible family tragedy, and who guided his loved ones – and the whole country – through some of our darkest days."
Kennedy's life was characterized almost as much by tragedy as it was triumph. He was the last surviving brother of the storied political dynasty that has experienced both on the national stage. His two brothers, JFK and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were both assassinated. Another brother, pilot Joe Kennedy was killed in World War II. A sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, died Aug. 11 of this year.
"Teddy was a dear friend and a great American who never stopped fighting to make sure that this country lived up to its greatest potential," Rep. Charles Rangel said.
"Sen. Edward Kennedy fearlessly challenged this country to be better," Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "His loss is tragic, but his legacy will forever endure. It will survive in the generations he transformed, the people he helped, and the country he adored.
Only two other Senators served longer than Kennedy, Republican Strom Thurmond and Democrat Robert Byrd. Sen. Democratic Leader Harry Reid said the legislative body would now mourn its "patriarch."
Sen. Christopher Dodd, perhaps Edward Kennedy's closest friend in the Senate, says Kennedy was a hero to the downtrodden.
"I'm not sure America has ever had a greater senator, but I know for certain that no one has had a greater friend than I and so many others did in Ted Kennedy,'' Dodd said in a statement. He had visited the ailing Kennedy at his Hyannis Port home this summer to discuss strategy as the Senate worked on a sweeping health care overhaul.
Dodd is in Connecticut recovering from recent prostate cancer surgery.
"I will miss him every day I serve, and every day I live,'' Dodd added.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, also a close friend of Kennedy's, promised his longtime mentor, "we will not let your flag fall."
“We all loved the man. In the Senate, Ted Kennedy was our sun – the center of our universe. To be pulled by his strong gravitational field, to bask in his warmth was a privilege, an honor, and, for many of us, even a life changing experience," Schumer said in a statement. "His death leaves our world dark but, as he said in his own words, ".the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.."