JFK Library Foundation head resigns

By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Staff / January 11, 2011

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After a year as chief executive officer of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, David McKean is stepping down to return to Washington, citing family concerns and a desire to be more involved in the political debate at “a critical time for our nation.’’

McKean, a former top aide to Senator John F. Kerry, said in a note last week to foundation president Caroline Kennedy and Kenneth R. Feinberg, the chairman of the board of trustees, that he wants to be back in Washington as his youngest daughter finishes high school and prepares for college. McKean has commuted regularly to Boston.

“I have had a wonderful year, but . . . my wife and I have decided that we should both be back in Washington,’’ said McKean, who is in his mid-50s. “Moreover, while I love the library this is a critical time for our nation and I would like to be more directly involved in the debate.’’

McKean’s departure comes at a key moment for the nonprofit foundation, which provides funding, staff, and programming for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum at Columbia Point, Dorchester. The museum is marking the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s inauguration with a series of high-profile events and programs, including a tribute at the State House today marking Kennedy’s 1961 “City on a Hill’’ speech in the House chamber.

Last year, the library, which is staffed by federal employees in conjunction with the National Archives, commemorated the 50th anniversary of JFK’s campaign and election as president with a series of forums and events. Its May fund-raising gala took in a record $1.8 million.

Two members of the foundation’s board of directors, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the resignation, said McKean’s experience and skills were not a comfortable fit in a job often defined by fund-raising and public relations, and that McKean was more interested in current events.

In a brief e-mail response to a Globe inquiry yesterday, McKean mentioned his family and concluded: “We all miss Washington and being together.’’ He is married to the former Kathleen Kaye of Littleton. The couple has three children.

Feinberg, in an e-mail informing the board of directors that McKean was stepping down, said: “It is understandable why David would want to return to Washington and remain engaged in public affairs. We wish him well in all new ventures.’’ He said Tom McNaught, who has held managerial positions at the foundation since 1996, “has agreed to step up and serve as executive director so there will be no need to spend time seeking a replacement for David.’’

“We will not miss a beat,’’ Feinberg wrote.

The foundation did not announce McKean’s resignation publicly. McKean’s e-mail to Feinberg and Caroline Kennedy said he would “be concluding my duties at the library in the next few weeks.’’ McKean’s name, however, is already gone from the staff list on the foundation’s website, and McNaught is listed as having been appointed executive director this month.

It was not immediately clear whether McKean has specific plans for the future.

McKean succeeded John Shattuck as chief executive. Shattuck, who in an eight-year tenure was credited with elevating the museum’s public profile, left Boston in 2009 to lead Central European University, a graduate school in Budapest founded in 1991 to help post-Soviet states with the transition to democracy.

McKean was raised in South Hamilton, graduated from Harvard College in 1980, and taught in Swaziland before receiving a law degree from Duke University Law School and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Before becoming Kerry’s chief of staff, McKean also served on the staff of the Senate Committee on Government Affairs, as special counsel to the Commodity Futures and Trading Commission, and as chief of staff to then-representative Joseph P. Kennedy II in 1993-94.

He is also the author of books about two behind-the-scenes players in Washington in the last century, Tommy “the Cork’’ Corcoran and Clark Clifford, as well as “The Great Decision: Jefferson, Adams, Marshall, and the Battle for the Supreme Court.’’

Brian C. Mooney can be reached at