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Former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, the eldest son of Robert F. Kennedy, announced Monday he would not run for the U.S. Senate seat held for nearly 50 years by his late uncle, Edward M. Kennedy.
In a statement, the former six-term congressman said he cares about those seeking decent housing, fair wages and health care. But he added, "The best way for me to contribute to those causes is by continuing my work at Citizens Energy Corp."
The nonprofit organization provides free heating oil to the poor, but Kennedy likely would have faced campaign questions about fuel it received from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez - a persistent U.S. critic.
Yet Kennedy also may have garnered support from the legions of Massachusetts Democrats who long supported his uncle, as well as national followers of his father, who was a U.S. senator from New York when he was assassinated in June 1968 as he sought the Democratic presidential nomination.
"My father called politics an honorable profession, and I have profound respect for those who choose to advance the causes of social and economic justice in elective office," the 56-year-old Kennedy said.
The decision is expected to widen the field of announced candidates for the late senator's seat. It became vacant Aug. 25, when Edward Kennedy died of brain cancer at age 77.
Three veteran Massachusetts congressmen - Reps. Michael Capuano, Edward J. Markey and John Tierney - have said they are considering campaigns but would not run against a member of the Kennedy family. The senator's widow, Vicki, had previously ruled out a campaign.
In a fiery speech Monday morning to a Boston labor breakfast, Capuano sought to distinguish himself from unnamed competitors.
"Everybody loves you today," the congressman told a crowd of about 400, including Tierney and Markey. "Everybody's for prevailing wage, everybody's for (project-labor agreements), everybody's for this, that and the other thing. Me too. That's good. But when it comes time to make the tough decisions, that's when you start to figure who's with you and who's not."
Markey said before addressing the crowd that he was still weighing a race, highlighting his stature as a 33-year member of the House, honorary title as dean of the New England delegation and chairmanship of the House Select Committee for Energy Independence.
"And I have to weigh that in balancing it against how effective I can be as a senator," he said. "But I will not consider it unless Joe Kennedy does not run."
Former Rep. Martin Meehan, who is now chancellor of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell but still has nearly $5 million in his campaign account, had also said he would defer to Kennedy, but he has been lukewarm about a campaign even if Kennedy declined to run.
Another Democrat, Rep. Stephen Lynch, said at the breakfast it's "likely" he will be announcing his candidacy during the next week. The former ironworker, who lives in blue-collar South Boston, said he wanted to wait until after Labor Day.
"I probably won't fit in in the U.S. Senate, but, I think that, in a lot of cases, the people of Massachusetts don't want a senator to fit in. They want them to stand out, and I offer through my experience," Lynch said.
Lynch recalled twice being laid off from shipbuilding and automaking jobs, adding, "I share the experience that a lot of others are feeling right now."
Attorney General Martha Coakley became the first high-profile Democrat to declare for the seat when she announced her candidacy last week. She wasted little time in flexing her political muscle.
Her supporters lined city intersections for two blocks around the hotel hosting the Greater Boston Labor Council breakfast, testifying to her early organizational advantage in the 90-day sprint to the primary election.
"We're off and running," she said as she shook hands outside.
Coakley said she has been especially pleased with her fundraising since her announcement speech last Thursday, though she was not sure precisely how close she is to her goal of raising $1 million during the first two weeks of her candidacy.
"I knew we'd be able to raise the money," she said. "Now I know we will."
One prominent Republican, former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, announced Sunday she would not run. But state Sen. Scott Brown said he is formally "testing the waters" under federal election law. That provision allows him to raise and spend up to $5,000 assessing a campaign. He expects to announce a decision Thursday or Friday.
The 16-year municipal and state official has also been in the military for 29 years, most recently in the Massachusetts National Guard as a lieutenant colonel in the Judge Advocate General's Corps. His eldest daughter, Ayla, gained national prominence in 2006 as a Hollywood finalist on TV's "American Idol."
"There's a guy in the White House who's cut a somewhat similar path: He was a state senator, a U.S. senator and now he's president," Brown said in an interview.
This program aired on September 7, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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