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Beacon Hill Watch: Visibility is all

There’s an anecdote of modest historical note that came out of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, the president, in hat and tails, standing at the top of the steps of the Capitol in the cold, and noticing among the swells a minor political figure from back home named George Kara.

Kara was renowned for his ability to smuggle himself into events of worth, good for a ticket to Washington, and well-regarded back home in West Roxbury, but hardly the august caliber of the national notables in the dais’s VIP section. When historians wondered what legacy-encasing thoughts were on the mind of the nation’s youngest president in the moments before he took the oath, Kennedy later confessed, the correct answer would be: How the hell did Kara get that seat?

And so it was last week on Beacon Hill, where Gov. Deval Patrick tabbed Kennedy family retainer Paul Kirk to fill the seat held until Aug. 25 by President Kennedy’s youngest brother, Ted. While much of the discussion dwelt on Kennedy’s legacy, the process around the pick, and historic health care reform, perhaps Kirk – himself largely unknown to the Bay State electorate – was thinking, Hey, is that state Rep. Garrett Bradley? And why is he in the front row?

Indeed, there was MassVOTE guy Avi Green a few seats over from Vicki Kennedy and Rep. Tony Cabral in the back. And then, once the press crushed around Vicki, it appeared from his proximity that state Sen. Marc Pacheco was a senior press aide to Mrs. Kennedy, which he is not.

If the state lawmakers’ naked over-eagerness to witness, or be witnessed by, history could be forgiven, it would be because of the histrionics that have unfolded on Beacon Hill in the month since Kennedy’s deathbed request landed here, during which time everything else in the agenda has suffered near-total eclipse.

So now it’s out onto the trail with the contenders for the Dec. 8 primaries and, ultimately, the Jan. 19 final. Insiders are wondering if U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano will be able to sell his pitch that he’s Kennedy-reincarnate, whether Attorney General Martha Coakley met her mid-month goal of $1 million in collections and, if so, why she hasn’t announced it – unless she’s waiting to pop eyes with a far-gaudier total when fundraising reports are due, how long before Steve Pagliuca can step outside the Gabrieli Model of rich guy who can’t win one, and what kind of an operation Alan Khazei can put together.

For the GOP, state Sen. Scott Brown has name recognition, money and the establishment’s preference over Canton selectman Robert Burr.

The field appears set. That Capuano and Coakley are the only known political entities makes the coalition-splitting kind of interesting. Coakley’s been hoarding labor endorsements, Capuano’s trying to get to her left, and Pagliuca and Khazei are still getting started.

Whispers among the campaigns have reached efflorescence, mouth-cupping mentions of whether certain candidates are running with the proper motivation, or others are up to the task. The precipitate election schedule can only sharpen these sub-campaigns. It’s just 74 days until the primary, a political blink and a lifetime.

FOR RAIL: The state will use $100 million in transportation bonds to move ahead with a South Coast commuter line by gaining a fork from Taunton to New Bedford and Fall River, and bolster service frequency between Worcester and Boston, purchasing tracks and a rail yard from CSX, the international railroad firm. The deal left taxpayers exposed to liability payments in case of freight train crashes, but officials called the final package, with payments of $500,000 per year and a $7.5 million deductible, an improvement over the previous policy. CSX will pull out of Beacon Park Yard in Allston and move its operations into central Massachusetts, shaking loose that 50-acre Boston property for Harvard University to develop it. The deal will lead to reduced freight traffic into the capital, freeing up capacity for passenger trains, said Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray.