The Washington Post
By Keith Kloor
Sen. Barbara Mikulski listened impassively as Robert Kennedy Jr. made his case. He had to talk over the din in the marbled hallway just outside the Senate chambers, where he was huddled with Mikulski, two of her aides and three allies of his who had come to Washington for this April meeting.
Kennedy, a longtime environmental activist and an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, had thought Mikulski would be receptive to an issue that has consumed him for a decade, even as friends and associates have told him repeatedly that it’s a lost cause. But she grew visibly impatient the longer he talked.
A mercury-containing preservative known as thimerosal, once used widely in childhood vaccines, is associated with an array of neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, Kennedy told her, summarizing a body of scientific research he and a team of investigators had assembled. Thimerosal, which is an antifungal and antiseptic agent, was taken out of those vaccines in 2001, but it is still used in some flu vaccines. If it was dangerous enough to be removed from pediatric vaccines, Kennedy contended, why was it safe at all? What’s more, he said, the federal government knew of the dangers all along. These were claims he had made in the past, both publicly and in private conversations with other Democrats in Congress, none of whom have taken him seriously.
The Maryland Democrat turned from Kennedy without a word. “I want to hear what you have to say,” Mikulski said, looking up at the lean man standing next to her. Mark Hyman, a physician and best-selling author, is Kennedy’s chief collaborator on a then-unpublished book titled “Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak,” which is scheduled to come out next week. The book argues that ethylmercury — a component of thimerosal — is harmful to human health. (Not so in trace amounts, scientific authorities have concluded.)
“The bottom line,” Hyman said to Mikulski: “We shouldn’t be injecting a neurotoxin into pregnant women and children.” Thimerosal should be taken out of the flu vaccine, Hyman and Kennedy argued.
Mikulski didn’t react, except to suggest they contact Sen. Bernie Sanders, who “cares about brain health” and oversees a related subcommittee.
As the meeting broke up, Mikulski’s brusque disposition toward Kennedy softened. “We miss your uncle here every day,” she said, referring to Senator Edward Kennedy, , a tenacious public health advocate during his long Senate career. He died of cancer in 2009.
Robert Kennedy Jr. said nothing. He was used to getting the brush-off by now. And he was already thinking ahead to his next move.
Robert Kennedy Jr belongs to a storied political family whose tragedies are woven into the American fabric. The third of Robert and Ethel’s 11 children, he was 9 when Lee Harvey Oswald killed his Uncle John, the 35th president. He was 14 when Sirhan Sirhan killed his father, who was running for president.
After his father’s death, the teenaged Kennedy experimented with drugs, like many of that generation’s youth. A reckless period spiraled into addiction and led to his arrest for heroin possession in 1983. He cleaned up, then embarked on a successful career as an environmental lawyer. He is also a professor at Pace University in White Plains, N.Y., where he runs a law clinic.
Pallbearers, including a young Robert F. Kennedy Jr., carry the coffin of Sen. Robert Kennedy to the grave site at Arlington National Cemetery on June 8, 1968. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
He travels the country, giving 200 speeches a year, many on renewable energy. He sits on the boards of several green tech companies and is heavily involved in solar and wind power construction projects, with business that takes him to Europe, China and the Mideast.
His private life, befitting a Kennedy, has been fodder for the gossip pages. He had two children with his first wife, Emily Black. Three weeks after their divorce in 1994, he married Mary Richardson. They had four children, then Kennedy filed for divorce in 2010 and took up with Cheryl Hines, the actress who played Larry David’s wife on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” They plan to marry in August at the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass. Mary took her own life in 2012. A year later, embarrassing 10-year-old entries from Kennedy’s private journals made tabloid headlines.