Friday, September 4, 2009
Waiting on Joe
Martha Coakley, the attorney general, announced she would run.
There is intense anticipation about Mr. Kennedy's decision.
'True Compass,' by Edward M. Kennedy : Kennedy’s Rough Waters and Still Harbors (September 4, 2009)
September 4, 2009
Massachusetts Waits for a Kennedy to Decide on Race
By ABBY GOODNOUGH and SARA RIMER
BOSTON — Nearly everyone in Massachusetts is waiting for Joseph P. Kennedy II to make up his mind.
It is hard to imagine this state without a Kennedy in the United States Senate. But it seems that Mr. Kennedy, 56, an entrepreneur and a former congressman who has avoided politics for more than a decade, is the only family member seriously mulling a run for the seat his uncle, Edward M. Kennedy, held for 47 years.
For Massachusetts, with its top hospitals, universities and research centers that counted on the federal dollars that flowed from Senator Kennedy’s influence on Capitol Hill, the stakes extend far beyond its deep emotional connection with him. People here are starting to grapple with the big political question: how to replace their irreplaceable senator, whose decades of relationships in Washington made Massachusetts a prime beneficiary of the things he believed in.
“With Joe, a lot of those ties would come back quickly,” said David Gergen, a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard who has advised both Democratic and Republican presidents. “There would be an army of people who worked for his uncle who would want to work for him.”
Several people close to the family said pressure on Joe Kennedy was not coming from the family, still grieving over the loss of its patriarch, but from within Joe himself, and, they speculated, from various stakeholders in Massachusetts — mayors, labor leaders and others — who view him as the candidate most likely to inherit enough of his uncle’s monumental legacy to take care of their needs.
Friends said that Joe Kennedy, who is the son of Robert F. Kennedy and who has the trademark Kennedy toothy smile, call to public service and complicated past, is agonizing over whether he truly wants the job, and depending almost exclusively on his wife, Beth, for counsel.
“It’s not about ensuring that someone named Kennedy stays in the seat,” said one friend of the Kennedy family, who requested anonymity, citing the private nature of the discussions. “It’s going to be a very personal decision based on whether or not this fits into Joe’s life right now.”
And until he makes a move, political observers say, no other possible contender — with the exception of Martha Coakley, the state attorney general who announced Thursday — is going to declare for the primary, scheduled Dec. 8.
“This is almost a unique situation in which Joe Kennedy has the right of first refusal to the seat,” Mr. Gergen said. “He’ll be a powerful favorite not only for the nomination but for the election because of who he is — the family name.”
Mr. Gergen and others said Joe Kennedy had shown no sign of national political ambition until last week, when he delivered a stirring tribute to his uncle at a memorial service here.
“Nobody can tell what’s in Joe’s head right now,” said Robert Healy, a former executive editor of The Boston Globe who was the newspaper’s Washington bureau chief during John F. Kennedy’s presidency. “But I have to think that he has to have been affected — as much as the people who are for him and against him — about the turnout for Teddy last week, the power of it.”
The bond between the Kennedys and Massachusetts is stronger than any other between a family and a state in recent history, and Joe Kennedy has already played a role in perpetuating it. He was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1986 to 1998, occupying the same seat that his Uncle Jack won in 1946.
He was a popular congressman, focusing on low-cost housing and veterans’ health care and easily winning re-election. But after his first wife publicly fought his attempt to annul their marriage and his brother Michael was killed in a skiing accident in 1997, Mr. Kennedy decided to leave office.
For the previous two years, he had suffered from the fallout of charges of improper sexual relations between Michael and a teenage baby sitter. Michael had been his campaign manager and had run his company.
“There are times when you have to get your priorities right,” Mr. Kennedy said in 1998 when he announced he would not seek re-election.
Political observers here say that while Mr. Kennedy has plenty of charisma and political savvy, he has not yet demonstrated his uncle’s patience for the tedious, incremental process of legislating.
Edward Kennedy apparently agreed: according to The Boston Herald, the senator told editors and reporters there in 2005 that Joe was “made intuitively and instinctively to be an executive, much more than the legislative.”
Since leaving Congress, Joe Kennedy has run the Citizens Energy Corporation, a nonprofit company he founded in 1979 to provide low-cost heating oil to the poor. The corporation has grown to include seven subsidiaries, some of them for-profit; Mr. Kennedy earned a salary of $544,792 in 2007, federal tax filings show.
He has won legions of working-class admirers for his work distributing free oil, a service he promotes in television advertisements urging viewers to call 1-877-JOE-4-OIL. The Citizens Energy Web site features wintertime photos of Mr. Kennedy embracing bundled-up elderly and poor people, and the company’s motto — “No one should be left out in the cold” — suggests the kind of populist touch that made Edward Kennedy so popular here.
Joe Kennedy has been ambivalent about whether to enter races before, like in 2002, when he signaled for months that he might run for governor but ultimately opted not to do so. Now, as then, friends say, he is weighing whether to expose his wife and twin sons, now 28, to the rigors of a campaign and the questions and attacks that surely would come with it.
An early dose came Wednesday, when Scot Lehigh, a columnist for The Boston Globe, called Mr. Kennedy a “knucklehead” prone to tantrums and impetuousness.
One of Mr. Kennedy’s friends said: “He’s been very content. So there’s some feeling of, why mess around with that?”
Posted by Independent Intellect at 13:25