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Paul Kirk Reflects On Potential Kennedy Candidacy

This article is more than 11 years old.

BOSTON — Could there be another Kennedy in Congress?

Joseph Kennedy III — the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy — confirmed Thursday that he's giving serious thought to running for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Barney Frank.

To get a sense of Kennedy's prospects, WBUR's All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with Paul Kirk, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, a friend of the Kennedy family, and the man who held Edward Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat in the year after Kennedy died.

According to Kirk, Kennedy's decision to resign from his job as a prosecutor at the Middlesex County district attorney's office is a sign that this is a serious political pursuit, not a half-hearted one.

"Joe is not a frivolous individual, very serious-minded," Kirk said, adding that he believes the young Kennedy's commitment to public service is genuine. "It's not about Joe Kennedy. It's about what difference he can make, if he's elected, to the people in his district or that make up his constituency."

Kirk said Kennedy's name recognition will create some curiosity, but is not an "automatic avenue" to election.

full transcript:

Paul Kirk: Joe is not a frivolous individual. He's very serious-minded. But when Congressman Frank, after his years in the 4th Congressional District, decided to retire from the Congress, I assume Joe looked at that and said, 'This is a time to seize the moment.'

Sacha Pfeiffer: What defining political moments have we seen already in his life, if any, that give us an indication of what he might be like as a politician?

First of all, he and his brother managed Sen. Kennedy's last senatorial campaign and he was exposed through that to the Massachusetts political scene. He did a great job as a surrogate candidate — traveling around, making a great impression on people. He's a curious listener, learning for himself, but is involved in this kind of an effort. And I think that in his own role that he played as an assistant district attorney in Barnstable County, he was able to win the positive impressions of the lawyers, members of the bar, members of the bench. And then it goes without saying that the Kennedy family — its reason for being, if you will, is to try to make a difference in people's lives. Giving back to one's community or one's country is very much a part of the Kennedy characteristic, and I think young Joe embodies that.

You think this is a genuine commitment to public service on Joe's part?

His commitment to this is — it's not about Joe Kennedy. It's about what difference he can make, if elected, to the people in his district or who make up his constituency. I think he's a very mature but at the same time self-effacing young man who is well-grounded and is in it, I would say, for the right reasons. The other thing that I think is important to note, particularly for the time in which we live, is that the political atmosphere and climate has become, I would say, toxic and somewhat of a turn-off for younger people. I think it's heartening to have someone of Joe's talent, who — despite that atmosphere — is willing to choose elective office and public life, for at least some chapter of his life, to make a difference.

Do you think the Kennedy name alone is enough to propel him into office, or will voters really be scrutinizing his ability to hold elected office?

The name recognition will create some curiosity but it doesn't necessarily mean, by any means, that that's an automatic avenue to election. And if there's anybody who appreciates that fully, it would be Joe Kennedy. He knows he's going to have to earn the respect and trust and confidence of the electorate in the 4th Congressional District.

But he certainly will face some cynical voters who feel that it's another Kennedy, and perhaps the Kennedy mystique has worn off. To what degree do you think the name no longer has magic?

I'm not sure I ever believed it had magic. I think those who served — certainly Sen. Kennedy's 47 years in the U.S. Senate — the magic came from hard work, from understanding what constituents in Massachusetts needed. And I think Joe Kennedy understands that's how it happened, this is how it works, it doesn't come automatically, you have to earn it by working as hard as you possibly can, by listening and learning and winning people's respect along that score.

What do you think are the biggest liabilities for a Joe Kennedy candidacy?

I suppose if there's a liability it may be what you touched on — that there may be some folks who, for whatever their own reasons, may be tired of having a Kennedy in public life. But I think Joe would overcome that. And there are some who, just for their own reasons, may never have been positive about the Kennedys and aren't about to change their minds. But given what I know about the state and the people in the 4th Congressional District, they'll be open-minded about this and make their own decision based on the talents of the respective candidates. And I believe that Joe will do very, very well.

This program aired on January 5, 2012.

Sacha Pfeiffer Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.



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