From long list, only 1,450 will get coveted funeral tickets

By Brian MacQuarrie
Globe Staff / August 28, 2009

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The math is impossible: several thousand requests for 1,450 seats at tomorrow’s funeral for Senator Edward M. Kennedy at the Mission Church. And that’s not counting the pressing demand to attend a smaller private service tonight at the John F. Kennedy Library.

There’s an A-list for high-demand events, and then there’s an A-plus-list for the funeral of the larger-than-life torchbearer of the Kennedy political dynasty. For appeal, the funeral has dwarfed the pressing scramble for tickets to the Kennedy tribute at Symphony Hall during the 2004 Democratic National Convention and the 2000 presidential debate at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

As a result, a small army of 50 current and former members of the senator’s staff huddled in two rooms at the Kennedy Library yesterday to pore through lists and pare down the roster.

The work was expected to continue late into the night and through today, aided by the meticulous lists that Kennedy kept of the friends, acquaintances, and supporters he had accumulated in nearly a half-century of public service. Those lists have been kept current, staff members said, because of Kennedy’s near-legendary habit of reaching out to note birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions.

“I’ve had clients who have called looking for tickets,’’ said George Regan, who operates a Boston public-relations agency. “I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. Why don’t you call a ticket agency?’ Quite frankly, it’s like getting tickets to see the pope.’’

President Obama and three former presidents were expected to attend the funeral, joined by more than 40 fellow senators, more than 100 mourners from the US House of Representatives, and a large contingent of White House staff. Then, the delegation of Massachusetts and Boston officials will take up even more of the coveted seats in the historic basilica in Mission Hill.

After the political world is accommodated, the staff will sift through the senator’s connections from other areas - social service groups, the military, victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and more than 1,000 people who worked for Kennedy over the years. The final word will rest with the senator’s wife, Victoria, said a former staff member who asked not to be identified.

The public will not be admitted without an invitation, although that has not stopped Mission Hill residents from calling the church rectory to volunteer to be ushers or hand out programs as their entree to history.

“My phone and my BlackBerry have not stopped ringing with people asking me about tickets,’’ said Ellen Saucier, a lifelong parishioner who is active in church activities.

One local official who secured a ticket is Michael Ross, the Boston City Council president who represents Mission Hill. Ross said he relayed his request through Mayor Thomas M. Menino and was willing to be disappointed because of the local, national, and even international demand. “This is so significant,’’ Ross said of the funeral’s location. “It’s a real source of pride for the community.’’