Tragedies don’t dim the desire of each generation of the Kennedys to leave a mark on politics, writes Bette Browne.
The Kennedy political dynasty will soon see if its magic can enchant another generation of Americans.
This time Joe Kennedy, grandson of assassinated New York senator Robert Kennedy, is nearing a decision on a bid for a US senate seat in Boston that was once held by his great-uncles, president John F. Kennedy and senator Ted Kennedy.
The 38-year-old congressman, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2013 and who is now on his third term, has been considering a run for the more powerful lower chamber for some weeks, and all but threw his hat in the ring by filing a “statement of candidacy” at the end of August with the US federal election commission of his intent to run.
He is expected to follow up on this by formally declaring his bid in the coming weeks.
“Over the past few weeks I’ve begun to consider a run for the US Senate,” Kennedy wrote on his Facebook page shortly before filing his candidacy statement.
“This isn’t a decision I approaching lightly.
But even before he showed his hand, he found himself the target of an ugly exchange involving a top aide in the campaign team of his Democratic rival, who currently holds the senate seat,73-year-old Edward Markey.
It happened when then top Markey aide Paul Tencher retweeted a post by an attorney, James S. Henry, who said that Markey “is a great Senator” while Kennedy “should focus on his family’s considerable mental health issues”.
This came just weeks after Joe Kennedy was a pallbearer at the funeral on August 2 of his 22-year-old cousin Saoirse Kennedy Hill, who was also Robert Kennedy’s granddaughter and who died of a suspected drug overdose.
Her mother is Courtney Kennedy and her father is Paul Hill, one of four people wrongly convicted of an IRA pub bombing in 1974 and released in 1989.
When Tencher ‘liked’ and ‘retweeted’ the Henry tweet, Kennedy was furious.
Tencher quickly apologised and when Markey learned of the retweet, he issued a strong statement of condemnation.
“To show such insensitivity for those experiencing mental health issues is extremely offensive to me,” he said.
“This action by a member of my campaign is unacceptable. It in no way reflects my commitment to the issue of mental health treatment and the eradication of stigma that so many families suffer. I deeply apologise to Congressman Kennedy and his entire family.”
Markey’s campaign then announced that John Walsh, a former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, was taking control of campaign’s strategy, and that Tencher, whom Markey had appointed as chief of staff for his senate office in 2017, was leaving the campaign team.
The death of Saoirse Kennedy Hill was the latest in a string of tragedies over the generations that have struck the Kennedy family since the assassinations of John F Kennedy in 1963 and of his brother Robert in 1968.
Two decades ago, in 1999, a small plane crash killed JFK’s son, John F. Kennedy Jr, and his wife, Carolyn Kennedy.
In 1984, David Kennedy, one of Robert’s children, died in a Florida hotel after a drug overdose. He had reportedly watched his father’s assassination on live TV as a boy and later struggled with addiction. He was 28.
In 1997, Michael Kennedy, another of Robert’s sons, died in a skiing accident.
But somehow the tragedies never overshadowed the Kennedy triumphs, especially the election in 1961 of the young and dashing JFK, who, together with his wife, Jackie, brought a sense of glamour and optimism to the White House that dazzled America and much of the world at the time.
Neither did the tragedies appear to dim the desire of each generation of the family to leave its mark on the political life of America. Today, Joe Kennedy is increasingly being seen as the most politically successful Kennedy of his generation.
Some Democrats even suggested that he could be the one to restore the magic of Camelot that died with the assassination of his great-uncle and of his grandfather.
Such suggestions appear like wishful thinking, but when a Kennedy gets involved in national politics they often become inevitable.
They were first voiced last year when Joe Kennedy was thrust into the national spotlight by his party when he was chosen to respond to US president Donald Trump’s State of the Union address to Congress.
While Jue Kennedy made a strong speech, contrasting his compassionate vision of America against that of Trump, it did not remotely reach the soaring oratorical heights of his grandfather Bobby or of his grand-uncle Jack. Nevertheless, many have dubbed him the party’s “rising star”.
Joe Kennedy is the son of former congressman Joseph Patrick ‘Joe’ Kennedy and Sheila Brewster Rauch.
He was born on October 4, 1980, the same year that his great-uncle Ted was running for the White House, though he lost the party nomination to Jimmy Carter.
When Joe was six years old, his father was elected to Congress, where he served until he retired in 1999. After Joe graduated from Stanford University in California, he spent two years in the Dominican Republic as a member of the US Peace Corps from 2004 to 2006.
He returned to Massachusetts in 2006, where he and his brother Matt co-chaired Ted Kennedy’s senate re-election campaign. He subsequently went on to earn his law degree at Harvard. While there, he worked for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, providing legal aid to low-income tenants with foreclosure cases after the 2008 financial crisis.
After getting his law degree in 2009, he worked as a prosecutor and resigned in early 2012 to run for the House of Representatives.
He was sworn into office inJanuary 2013, and has since been re-elected to two further terms. Joe Kennedy married Lauren Anne Birchfield, a health policy lawyer, in 2012. They have two children, a daughter born in 2015 and a son born in 2017.
While Kennedy easily won his party’s nomination to run for the House of Representatives, a senate nomination race against Markey could be tougher.
For a start, Markey had a long and distinguished career in the House before being elected to the senate in 2014 and is now among the top 10 most popular US senators, according to Morning Consult research survey company.
Like Kennedy, Markey has an Irish Catholic background. He was one of several US politicians who had a cameo role in the 2003 US Civil War film Gods and Generals, in which he played an Irish-American officer.
But in a boost for Kennedy, a poll on Tuesday put him ahead of Markey by more than 10 points if he were to enter the race.
The poll, by Suffolk University and the Boston Globe, with a 4% margin of error, found 73% support for Kennedy and 59% for Markey.
“This is not about the incumbent. It’s not about Senator Markey. We admire his public service over the past 43 years,” said Jamie Hoag, one of the people who launched a group urging Kennedy to run.
However, it will also be about the Kennedy name and America’s enduring fascination with its premier political dynasty.