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Board chair Bruce Percelay eyes a more national role for EMK Institute

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Boston Globe

June 13, 2022

It’s not every day that the folks at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute implore you to watch Fox News.

That’s exactly what happened before the first “Senate Project” debate on Monday, held in the Dorchester nonprofit’s famed replica of the US Senatechamber. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders squared off against Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Bret Baier of Fox News moderated thedebate, which aired on the Fox Nation video subscription service.

This showdown is part of a broader mission that EMK board chair Bruce Percelay envisions: expand the institute beyond school field trips; make itmore of a political convener with national aspirations.

“Teaching civics education to area students is important, but our footprint should be a lot bigger and it will be,” said Percelay, founder of the MountVernon Co. real estate investment firm. “The Senate Project is just one of the initiatives that we are going to be embarking on that are going to have a national focus.”

The concept for a series of debates came about roughly a year ago when former Democratic senators Tom Daschle and Chris Dodd, both EMKboard members, expressed how dejected they felt about divisiveness in the Senate. The hope is to show how politicians make the case for differentpoints of view without partisan bickering and gridlock. Other cosponsors included the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center and the Orrin G. HatchFoundation.

Percelay joined the EMK board about two years ago at the request of Vicki Kennedy, wife of the late Senator Ted Kennedy. They became friends aftershe was featured on the cover of N Magazine, the Nantucket publication led by Percelay. (She left the EMK board in December after President JoeBiden named her ambassador to Austria.)

Percelay sees it as a fortunate coincidence that the event took place after an accord was reached in the Senate on some modest gun control measures.

“As narrow an agreement as it was, it was a first step toward what we are trying to promote,” Percelay said. “It did demonstrate for us that compromiseis possible. The Senate needs to start getting back into the habit of reaching toward the middle.”

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