Kennedys’ political future is murky

Young members eschewing office; No sure standout seen in family

Joseph P. Kennedy III (pictured) is seen by insiders as the most likely in the family to enter electoral politics. Other possibilities include Victoria Reggie Kennedy and Edward Kennedy Jr. Joseph P. Kennedy III (pictured) is seen by insiders as the most likely in the family to enter electoral politics. Other possibilities include Victoria Reggie Kennedy and Edward Kennedy Jr.
By Frank Phillips
Globe Staff / February 14, 2010

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The Kennedy family, which has helped shape American politics and national policy for more than six turbulent decades, has no immediate prospects among its younger generation to carry on that tradition in political office once Patrick Kennedy serves out his term in Congress.

Most of the grandsons and granddaughters of family patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. have left politics or chosen other avenues to pursue causes the family has long championed.

“Massachusetts - and Capitol Hill - without a Kennedy is like Fenway Park without the Wall,’’ said Dan Payne, a Democratic media consultant, referring to the famous Green Monster. “They were meant to be together.’’

Those close to the Kennedy family say some of the younger members have chosen careers that are still in public service, just not in political office.

“There’s an endless supply of Kennedys but they all do different things with their lives,’’ said Philip W. Johnston, chairman of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and a longtime family political confidant. “They should not be measured by how they do in electoral politics.’’

The most likely possibility of another Kennedy candidacy may lie here in Massachusetts, where the family has its strongest roots and where no Kennedy office-seeker has been defeated.

Joseph P. Kennedy II easily won his first race in 1986 for the US House and was never seriously challenged in his 12-year tenure. His decision in Septem ber not to run for his uncle’s Senate seat marked the end of a long era - dating to John F. Kennedy’s election to Congress in 1946 in which the Kennedys dominated Massachusetts politics. Publicly and privately, he has expressed a hint of regret about the decision.

One of his two sons, Joseph P. Kennedy III, a Harvard Law School graduate and former Peace Corps volunteer, is seen by many political insiders as the next generation’s best prospect for office. He could run for his father’s old seat, in the Eighth Congressional District, but it is unlikely that incumbent Michael Capuano will give up the post anytime soon.

His other choice could be the South Shore-Cape Cod district that William Delahunt has held since 1997. Delahunt, facing a potentially stiff contest from Republicans in his GOP-friendly district, says he is undecided about seeking reelection this year.

Democratic Party insiders say Joe Kennedy III, who has made numerous appearances at local party events, has expressed the most interest in seeking office. He is now an assistant district attorney in Barnstable County. His voting address is in Hyannis. He and his brother, Matthew, served as cochairmen of Edward Kennedy’s last reelection campaign in 2006. (Matthew Kennedy is working in the Obama administration, but is said to be more inclined to pursue a business career.)

Other possibilities include Edward Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, being enticed to run for office in Massachusetts, perhaps to try to recapture her husband’s seat. His son Edward M. Kennedy Jr. could also jump into electoral politics in Connecticut, where he lives.

One factor any Kennedy who runs in the near term would need to consider is the anti-incumbent mood among the electorate, which helped propel Republican Scott Brown to victory in the Senate race.

“The anger may have not peaked,’’ Payne said.

But Johnston and other longtime political observers said the younger members of the clan may well decide to steer clear of electoral politics.

“There are other ways to make contributions other than politics,’’ Johnston said. “It is a very tough business to be in.’’

“There are advantages to being a Kennedy,’’ he added. “But there are also disadvantages, mostly the glare of publicity that goes with it.’’

Indeed, recent Kennedy ventures into electoral politics have not gone so well.

Max Kennedy, one of Robert F. Kennedy’s sons, was nudged out of a special congressional race in Massachusetts in 2001 by family members, including his uncle, Edward Kennedy, when he demonstrated he did not have a flare for politics or enough of a command of public policy.

Caroline Kennedy, despite her iconic stature as the last surviving child of John F. Kennedy, proved to be a clumsy campaigner when she put herself into contention to be selected by Governor David Paterson of New York in early 2009 to fill Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate seat. And Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, despite showing some political talent and winning the post of lieutenant governor in Maryland, lost a race for governor.

But, as Patrick Kennedy said Friday, the Kennedy family is unlikely to just go quietly.

“I wouldn’t count us out for good,’’ he said.