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Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy announced he will not seek re-election this fall, marking the end of a Kennedy era in Congress that has lasted more than 60 years. The eight-term Democratic congressman and son of the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy made the announcement in a video message to his constituents, obtained by the media Thursday night.
"Illness took the life of my most cherished mentor and confidante, my ultimate source of spirit and strength," Kennedy said. "From the countless lives he lifted, to the American promise he helped shape, my father taught me that politics at its very core was about serving others."
Kennedy thanked Rhode Island voters for supporting him through the tragedies and scandals that have touched his life, like many Kennedys.
Video: Kennedy's Announcement
In his announcement, Kennedy said he is heading in a "new direction," though he did not provide specific details on his plans. Aides said he had been considering leaving public life for some time, and substance abuse was not a factor in his decision.
Political analysts have attributed Kennedy's decision to a combination of his father's passing and other personal and political factors. Scott MacKay, a political analyst for WRNI in Providence, said Kennedy, now 42, may simply be looking for a break after so many years in the political spotlight.
"He's somebody who's been in office since he's been 19 years old," MacKay said. "I really do think that this is the first time he's had to take a deep breath from politics."
Darrell West, the vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said Kennedy's decision will grant him a privacy he's never been afforded.
"I think he will find retirement liberating because it will put him in a position to chart his own course," said West, who is also the author of "Patrick Kennedy: The Rise To Power." "He has served in Congress under the shadow of his father for many years. He's dealt with all the public scrutiny. I think now he will be in a much stronger position to live his life the way he wants to live it as opposed to how other might want him to live it."
Observers said Kennedy was also in a precipitous electoral position before his sudden retirement. In a recent poll, 56 percent of voters in his district gave him an unfavorable rating.
"Forces were lining up in such a way in Rhode Island that he was probably going to have a very contentious primary and a contentious general election," said Maureen Moakley, a political science professor at the University of Rhode Island.
A Republican contender, state Rep. John Loughlin, had already declared his intentions to run against Kennedy. No Democrats had entered the race before Kennedy's announcement.
Moakley noted that Kennedy may have been discouraged by his family's fade from political life. In 2009, his cousin, Caroline Kennedy, was passed over in New York for an appointment to the U.S. Senate spot left open when Hillary Clinton became secretary of state. Last month, his father's long-held Democratic seat in Massachusetts went to Republican Scott Brown.
"I think the bloom is off the rose as far as the myth of the Kennedys, and I think he would have had some difficult times," Moakley said. "The idea of an end of an era being him losing, I think the Kennedys probably chose another way to bow out."
While West agreed that Kennedy's retirement "really is a changing of the guard," he doubted the Democrat would have been in such political peril, with the re-election rate for House incumbents at 96 percent. West said he thinks Kennedy would have won had he sought re-election.
Kennedy insisted in his announcement that he will continue to work on his signature issues after leaving office. "Going forward, I will continue many of the fights we have waged together, particularly for those suffering from depression, addiction, autism and traumatic stress disorder," Kennedy said.
West said such devotion to key causes could push Kennedy to the non-profit world. "This opens a new chapter in the life of Patrick Kennedy," West said. "I think in many respects, retiring from public office represents the first step towards personal liberation for Patrick Kennedy."
Jess Bidgood compiled this report for WBUR. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This program aired on February 12, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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