Update, Dec. 9: Although Alan Khazei gained the endorsements of many prominent people and even The Boston Globe, he was defeated at the polls during the Democratic primary Dec. 8th, by Martha Coakley, Massachusetts Attorney General. Khazei won 13 percent of the popular vote during yesterday’s election.
Among the hopefuls to fill Ted Kennedy’s long-held Senate seat is City Year founder Alan Khazei.
Twenty years ago Alan Khazei and Michael Brown co-founded City Year, a national service corps that became a model for AmeriCorps in the early 90s. Today, Khazei is campaigning his heart out in Massachusetts to fill the Senate seat left empty on August 25th when Senator Ted Kennedy passed away from a brain tumor.
Khazei had worked closely with Senator Kennedy to create and garner Congressional support for several pieces of legislation for national service programs, including the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1990, AmeriCorps, Save AmeriCorps, and this year’s landmark Kennedy Serve America Act.
On other issues, Khazei stands with Kennedy’s positions as well, including his sense that No Child Left Behind — legislation championed by Ted Kennedy — was so underfunded as to render it ineffective. You can read the details of Khazei’s range of positions on diverse issues for yourself (here).
While few of these positions directly impact the field of national service, the issues and the people he talks about are the social concerns that many nonprofits and government agencies that host AmeriCorps members are impacted by, in nonpartisan ways, daily: immigration, health care, education, LGBTQ rights, energy, the economy.
On the LGBTQ issues, his opinions would have an impact on service communities. If a Senator Khazei were to help repeal the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (which he says he’d like to do—DOMA currently makes it impossible for gay marriage to be recognized at the Federal level), lesbian and gay married couples would be able serve in Peace Corps together. He’d also like to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and make it legal for lesbian and gay people to be open about their identities when they serve in the armed forces.
I no longer live in Massachusetts and can’t vote in the primary round of the special election December 8th. But I can’t help supporting Alan Khazei from afar, because he’s not only a brilliant leader, adept at navigating Congress though he’s always been on “the outside” in a sense, but he’s also very skilled at bringing people together who appear to have nothing in common to achieve specific civic goals — for example, as the champion of national service and the founder of Be the Change, Inc (the powerhouse behind the Service Nation campaign this past year), Khazei brought together bi-partisan groups of elected officials, movie and music stars, corporate leaders, the military service members and vets, and us — our national service communities — to pass the most sweeping expansion of AmeriCorps since it’s start in the early 90s.
In this way, too, Khazei would be a great choice to follow in Kennedy’s footsteps. While Kennedy spoke out against legislation he abhorred, he also worked hard with people of very different ideology and background from himself, to find agreement on issues and legislation that he believed would benefit his constituents in Massachusetts and others in the United States.
Finally, while Senator Ted Kennedy was often chided as a young senator for never having “worked a day in his life” (which wasn’t true, but his name probably did help him a bit — Kennedy’s brother was a popular president at the time of his first election), by contrast Khazei would enter the Senate at mid-career, after having created and led forward-thinking organizations that have been proven both effective and massively popular, and after having worked first-hand on getting legislation passed through grassroots campaigning.
Are you in Massachusetts? What’s your plan for the election?