A New Kennedy Mulls Politics

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For the past six decades there has been a member of the Kennedy family serving in elected office. But when Sen. Edward Kennedy died in 2009 and Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy announced he was stepping down in 2010, it appeared the political dynasty was over.

Enter red-headed 31-year-old twin Joseph Patrick Kennedy III. He’s formally looking at running for Rep. Barney Frank’s soon-to-be vacated seat.

Joseph Kennedy III, in January 2010 (AP)
Joseph Kennedy III, in January 2010 (AP)

Joseph Kennedy III has an impressive resume — Stanford undergrad, Harvard Law, assistant district attorney for the Cape and the Islands and, most recently, assistant DA for Middlesex County. At Harvard he worked in legal aid helping tenants facing eviction. He was in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic and speaks Spanish.

But in Newton Center — the heart of the district Kennedy wants to represent — voters Thursday didn't seem to know much about him.

"All things being equal, if he had some of the same values, ideas, etcetera, as the other Kennedys I would definitely vote for him," said Leni Weber.

"I don’t know anything about him," said Sam Bielak, another voter. "I know the father a little bit, I would have to wait and see what his policies are."

"Thirty-one-years-old, it’s OK, little young," added Ziva Paley. "I’d like to know what his thoughts are and everybody wants to fix Washington, but how do you do that? But maybe a Kennedy will open doors and that’s always good."

Joseph Kennedy III has had a low public profile. But last January, he sounded a bit like a candidate when he delivered the annual “City Upon A Hill” speech before the Massachusetts Legislature. It was the 50th anniversary of the famous speech delivered by his great uncle, John F. Kennedy, weeks before he became president.

"The rhetoric in Washington has been toxic," Joseph Kennedy III said. "Anti-war protesters holding up signs saying 'Death to terrorist pig Bush.' Tea Party protestors shouting out racist and anti-gay slurs to members of Congress, protesters shouting out 'Death to Cheney.' Radio talk show hosts calling President Obama and Congress communists and traitors. Images of both political parties showing opponents in the crosshairs of a rifle scope. This isn’t what President Kennedy stood for."

In a statement, Kennedy says Washington lacks “common sense and fairness.” He says he has a deep commitment to public service and experience finding bipartisan solutions. Kennedy is not a total newcomer to politics, says Paul Kirk, who temporarily served in Edward Kennedy’s seat after he died.


"He and his brother managed Sen. Kennedy's last senatorial campaign and was exposed through that to the Massachusetts political scene," Kirk said. "[He] did a great job as a surrogate candidate traveling around making an impression on people and being a curious listener, learning what is involved in this kind of an effort."

There's plenty of family experience with politics, but observers note the family name is no guarantee of success.

"When you’re knocking on doors it doesn’t matter whether your name is Kennedy or Smith, you're still knocking on that door, you still have to ask people for their vote, you still have to raise money and you have to have a message," said Democratic political consultant Michael Goldman, who has worked on campaigns for Joseph Kennedy III's father.

Even though he worked with him less than a year, Kennedy's current boss, Middlesex DA Gerry Leone, praises his work ethic.

"I do respect and admire Joe’s desire to serve the citizens of the 4th Congressional District and I am confident that, if the people choose him, he will serve them with the same commitment and distinction that he has served the citizens of Middlesex County," Leone said.

Several other democrats are thinking about running, including State Sen. Cynthia Creem, Boston City Councilor Mike Ross and Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter, to name a few.

Kennedy says he will being reaching out to people in the 4th District in order to hear about their challenges. He’ll be driving from the 8th Congressional District in Cambridge, where he now lives, to make these connections. The Constitution does not require a candidate to live in the district they are running in, only in the state they will represent.

This program aired on January 6, 2012.


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