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Richard A. Arenberg: Staff to Senators Paul Tsongas, George Mitchell and Carl Levin

Photo of Richard Arenberg

“He just had something to say and he went down and said it.”

Arenberg describes how Senator Paul Tsongas' unconventional maiden Senate speech upset his senior colleague from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy.

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ARENBERG: I remember his maiden speech. You know, particularly back then, what it meant to make your maiden speech on the Senate floor. Well, I was with him in his office one day. He hadn’t been in the Senate very long, maybe a couple of weeks. I have to say by way of back story, he was the first Peace Corps volunteer elected to the Senate. He had been in Ethiopia and then had been a trainer in the West Indies. And so he was very proud of the fact that he was the only member of the Senate who had lived in Africa, and he felt he knew a lot about Africa. We were in his office, and it was before the Senate was televised so we were listening over the squawk box in the background, as we always did. I always tell people those were the days when to be a good staffer you had to know all 100 voices, otherwise you wouldn’t know what was going on. So anyway, somebody was making a speech about something and refers to Ethiopia or Somalia or something like that. And he perks up and he says, “I don’t agree with that.” He says, “Come on!” And he drags me and we go over to the floor and he stands up and he gets recognition and he starts talking! Well, about five minutes into this address, all of a sudden you hear this bang as those twin swinging doors of the center aisle swing and fly open and puffing down the aisle comes Ted Kennedy, you know, at a trot. Because, as you know better than I, it was the tradition for the senior senator to introduce his junior colleague on the floor of the Senate when he was about to make his maiden speech. And here was Tsongas making his maiden speech without any forewarning. Never mind to Ted Kennedy, he hadn’t made any forewarning to his staff or his speechwriter or anybody else. He just had something to say and he went down and said it. And that really kind of encapsulates the way he was.


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