BOSTON — With flags flying at half-staff and the mournful song of a solitary bagpipe, Joe Moakley came home one last time.
The beloved, 15-term Democratic congressman from South Boston died Sunday in Washington, D.C. He was 74 years old and had been suffering from leukemia. A three-day memorial tribute to John Joseph Moakley--known universally in his home district as "Joe"--began Wednesday with a vigil at the parish church in his working-class, mostly Irish neighborhood.
Moakley called the South Boston constituents who kept him in local, state and national office for almost 50 years "bread and butter Democrats." The protege of the late House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill often would remark: "These people out there, they're my boss. I work for them."
The congressman's body will lie in state today at the Capitol on Beacon Hill. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) will deliver a eulogy tonight to his longtime Democratic colleague. Funeral services, planned for Friday, are expected to draw such political dignitaries as President and Mrs. Bush and former President Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
"His was a selfless life," Kennedy said of Moakley. "All of us already miss him very much."
While his district grieved, the death of the burly, bearded ex-boxer triggered a polite stampede for his job.
Most prominent among the half-dozen hopefuls bent on inheriting the rare Massachusetts congressional vacancy is Matthew Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, a son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and his wife, Ethel, and a nephew of Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Max Kennedy, a 36-year-old environmental lawyer, recently purchased a home in West Roxbury, a middle-class area in Moakley's old district that is not known as a Kennedy family stomping ground. As the founder of the nonprofit Watershed Institute, Max Kennedy never has held elective office. In the last 10 years, he has lived in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Cambridge, Mass. He claims the family compound in Hyannis Port as his permanent address.
Despite his famous family name, Kennedy faces competition from his own party. Democratic state Sen. Marc R. Pacheco has expressed interest in the Moakley seat. Two other Democrats from the state Senate, Stephen F. Lynch and Brian A. Joyce, also are eyeing the congressional slot that stretches through suburban Boston.
Since Moakley announced his illness in February, Boston City Councilor Stephen J. Murphy also has been exploring a run. The name of Raymond L. Flynn, former Vatican ambassador and former Boston mayor, also has been floated as a possible candidate, along with former Boston mayoral candidate and well-known Democrat Joseph P. Timilty.
Acting Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift has said she will wait at least until next week before setting a date for a special election to fill Moakley's job.
"We need to pay respect to [Moakley] and his family," said her press secretary, Jason Kauppi.
No Republican candidate for the seat has surfaced. Massachusetts' entire congressional delegation is Democratic, and Democrats also control both houses of the state Legislature.
Noting that the Moakley seat has been held by Democrats for almost 80 years, Edmund Beard, director of the John W. McCormack Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, predicted that a Republican would yet enter the race.
"My guess is that the Republican will be a moneyed, independent type who does it in retrospect as a lark, although hope springs eternal," Beard said.
To date, only Joyce has filed papers with the Federal Election Commission announcing his intention to run. That gesture offended Moakley, Beard said, and probably hampered Joyce's chances of victory.
Name recognition works in Kennedy's favor, Beard said, as does the quick turnaround time of the special election and partial term the new member of Congress will occupy.
But Kennedy, whose first foray into public speaking here last month drew widespread ridicule, faces other obstacles, Beard said.
"The problem with Max is, he's a stiff. He's inarticulate and he's not particularly knowledgeable. He doesn't project very well on the hustings," Beard said.
In a region where his family name carries near-mythic weight, Max Kennedy also compares poorly to his charismatic older brother, former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, Beard said.
"Joe Kennedy glows. He's like neon," Beard said. "Max doesn't. Max just ain't got it."
Although Max Kennedy has not officially declared his candidacy, he did make a ceremonial visit to Moakley in Washington soon after the congressman announced he had cancer.
But Kennedy has several fund-raisers planned and is "testing the waters," according to his spokesman, Scott Ferson.
Rep. William D. Delahunt, whose district abuts Moakley's, said in an interview that the field to succeed the late congressman has not begun to solidify.
Asked if Kennedy could claim a birthright to elected office in Massachusetts, Delahunt said: "No one has a birthright for this job. But it does help."