The Kennedy Legacy

Not just politics as usual

Posts tagged Joe Kennedy

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Joe Kennedy: “Toured the North Attleborough Fire Department before our office hours over the weekend. Honored to have the chance to thank the station’s fire fighters for working tireless to keep our community safe.”

Joe Kennedy: “Toured the North Attleborough Fire Department before our office hours over the weekend. Honored to have the chance to thank the station’s fire fighters for working tireless to keep our community safe.”

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The still elusive Joseph P. Kennedy


Joseph Patrick Kennedy, the paterfamilias of the Kennedy clan, continues to be scrutinized in lengthy biographies as well as in numerous studies of his most famous progeny.

The reasons for this persistent interest are not especially difficult to understand. Kennedy’s intriguing career is well documented in print, in archival collections, in recordings, and on film. Of course, much the same can be said of the life of Senator Prescott Bush, the founder of the Bush clan. However, the Kennedy family story has taken on a unique and almost mythic quality because of the dramatic historical events which destroyed JPK’s own political ambitions and the tragedies that consumed his sons and two of his daughters.  

Historian and biographer David Nasaw, the most recent scholar to take on the JPK story, was offered unrestricted access by the Kennedy family to the papers of Joseph P. Kennedy at Boston’s Kennedy Library. Nasaw insists that there were no strings attached—that he received permission to read and cite any and all materials in the JPK papers. However, he has acknowledged in a TV interview, that even after he agreed to write the book it took nearly 18 months to finalize a legal agreement between the Kennedys and the author—inevitably creating speculation about the precise nature of the issues which required such lengthy negotiations.

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He is handsome, too, but not quite in a conventional Kennedy way. He has bright orange hair that sometimes curls into a forelock, blue-green eyes and pale freckles. He has been compared to Conan O’Brien (besides being a redhead, he’s also fairly tall), but looks more like a mash-up of Prince Harry, the “Hunger Games” actor Josh Hutcherson and a bird
Edith Zimmerman in The New York Times on congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III.

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Joe Kennedy kicks off re-election bid in Taunton

Freshman U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III kicked off his re-election campaign yesterday in front of a roaring crowd of supporters in Taunton, sticking to his famous family’s political script of championing the poor but also lamenting congressional gridlock.

Kennedy, whose famous bloodline enshrined him as a member of an American political dynasty, surprised no one at the Sandbar Grill with his announcement that he’s seeking a second term for the 4th Congressional District seat.

“I’m thrilled to announce to all of you that I’m running for re-election … I hope that doesn’t come as a big shock to anybody,” Kennedy said to cheers and laughs. “Every person, regardless of where you were born or where you’re from, deserves to make the most out of what they got here in this country.”

He touched on his backing of raising the minimum wage, passing comprehensive immigration laws, workforce development, protecting retirement security and extending unemployment benefits.

Kennedy, who as of now does not have a Republican challenger, bemoaned some of his colleagues placing politics over their country.

“Despite the lessons learned, despite the people that you meet, despite all that comes with being a member of Congress, there are times that have been extraordinarily frustrating,” he said. “You see that good policy is often in conflict, for some, with good politics.”

Betty Regan, 67, of Medway said she believes Kennedy puts the common man over special-interest money.

“He espoused the Democratic principles, which is very important,” she said. “He really is a people’s representative. He’s not a Koch brothers’ representative.”

After his speech, Kennedy told the Herald he’s trying to build bipartisan bridges, noting he has had dinners with Tea Party congressmen, and a manufacturing bill he sponsored also has dozens of Republican sponsors. He said his legacy name has helped rather than hindered him in Washington because of the bonds his political family has built over the years.

Both Kennedy and his wife are running the Boston Marathon — he’s raising money for The One Fund Boston, she’s raising money for Boston Medical Center. Kennedy said after last year’s bombings it’s especially important to put on his running shoes.

“No terrorist act is going to take away our city and what makes our state the place that it is,” he said.


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A year in, Rep. Kennedy charts his own course


WASHINGTON — For 90 minutes, the 33-year-old rookie representative with the shock of red hair bided his time as an endless stream of senior lawmakers asked lengthy questions about the crisis in South Sudan. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III stroked his chin as he waited his turn.

Kennedy finally got time for two questions, but the long wait made him late for his next appointment.

“The joys of being a freshman in the minority,” he said with an air of self-deprecation, a shrug, and a sigh as he headed out — promptly underscoring his newbie status by making a wrong turn into a parking garage before finally locating the correct corridor.

As Kennedy marks a year since his arrival on Capitol Hill, he is in many regards still finding his way. Legions of Kennedy loyalists hope that he will revive the family tradition and rise quickly through the ranks. But to follow Kennedy on recent travels between Washington and Boston is to see a man playing the long game, still figuring out his mission.

The newest Kennedy in public life mocks his own lack of experience; casts himself as just another freshman Democrat, lower profile than most; and defers to colleagues from both parties. He is building a reputation for delving into unglamorous subjects; his favorite topic: STEM, an acronym favored by education policy wonks, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

But don’t mistake any of that for lack of ambition.

“While his name brings a special kind of cache, the thing about it is he doesn’t take that for granted and he doesn’t try to exploit it,” said Paul G. Kirk, the former chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation who replaced Edward M. Kennedy in the Senate on an interim basis.

“I think he also understands that freshman year is a listening and learning year and identifying the issues which you feel most strongly about,” he said.

JoeKIII, as he is often called, is walking amidst the sweep of Kennedy family history, which includes a great-uncle and grandfather who were assassinated and another great-uncle who served decades in the Senate. He has most directly followed his father, former representative Joseph P. Kennedy II, who at this one-year point in his political career had lashed out at the slow pace of the House.

He is experiencing some of the same frustrations as his father about the glacial pace of change but emphasizes — through his actions and words — that he will go more slowly and more quietly.

Just being a member of Congress is enough for now; no need to complicate matters. “I’m not good at the deep, introspective, on-the-couch analysis answers,” he said.


Using his first term as a quiet apprenticeship is a luxury that more vulnerable politicians might not have. After the Democratic field was largely cleared for him in the 2012 primary for Fourth Congressional District based in Brookline, Kennedy took more than 60 percent of the vote in his general election. He has yet to draw an opponent for the November 2014 election.

“It’s really important for me to do the fundamentals of this job really, really well,” Kennedy said. “And to let people know that I think the core responsibilities of a member of Congress aren’t seeking the national headlines or being the spokesperson on this issue or that issue when you just get there.”

The lobby of Kennedy’s Washington office is filled with banners for all the hometown sports teams, a Boston Strong poster, and free sample bags of Craisins. His dog Banjo, a border collie mix, is often wandering without a leash.

One has to get past the waiting room to see reminders of his family’s imprint on the nation. There are photos from his grandfather Robert Kennedy’s presidential run and the quote from his grandfather reminding him “you live on the most privileged nation on earth.”

Like his great uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy, he is trying his hardest to make some Republican friends. So unlike his fellow Massachusetts Democrats, who take pleasure in roasting the Tea Party, he holds his tongue.

“Their point of view resonated enough with the people they represent that they got elected,” he said. “And it’s, I think, extremely important for me to at the very least try to understand what that point of view is. It doesn’t mean we’re going to agree on everything. But you might find something.”

It’s a starkly different strategy from his father, Joseph P. Kennedy II, who was elected in 1986 when Democrats controlled the House and thus faced far less gridlock than today, but he nonetheless grew impatient with the imperative to “kowtow to some ladder rungs” to win power. The older Kennedy, who served a dozen years, declined an interview request.

Kennedy’s cousin, former Rhode Island congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, said some of Joe Kennedy II’s colleagues felt threatened by his aggressive style and became determined to “put him in his place.” The son’s low-key approach is no accident, he said.

“His father’s advice to me, and I’m sure it was to his son, was ‘Don’t do it the way I did it,’” Patrick Kennedy said. “In his own self-deprecating way, his father realized that he wasn’t built for that place.”

The son has so far avoided his father’s brash television persona and the breakneck national fund-raising schedule that had colleagues worried he would burn out.

“Look, I think it’s a — my dad is a high-energy guy. He’s got an executive mentality,” Kennedy said, pausing as he measured his words. “There’s no surprise that this place isn’t moving as fast as any of us would like.”

It was his father, Kennedy said, who warned him before he decided to run for office that “this can be hard. It’s a long slog.”

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Representing the next generation of the Kennedy clan

He recalls sitting around the dinner table at his grandmother’s house listening to his aunts and uncles and older cousins debate the issues of the day. At the age of eight, he “pretty much watched”, he says. “It was one of those valuable experiences for me to listen and observe.” This would be the average experience for any child growing up in a large family. But when the family is that great American political dynasty, the Kennedys, and around the dinner table are the many children and grandchildren of the late Robert F. Kennedy, it makes the act of speaking up by one of the youngest members of the family that bit more daunting.

The exposure to these wide-ranging debates clearly rubbed off on the young Joseph P. Kennedy III,  the grandson of Bobby; he is the only member of the Kennedy clan currently holding political office in the United States. “You saw how passionate people were, that even in the midst of the same family you could have a spirited debate about various issues,” Kennedy, sitting in his congressional office on Capitol Hill in Washington, says of those regular family dinners.

“We have got a big family and people were going off all over the country, all around the world doing different things. No one is shy. They all had the courage to be able to stand up and speak their minds.”

Kennedy was elected to the House of Representatives for Massachusetts ’ fourth congressional district last November, winning an impressive 61 per cent of the vote against Republican nominee  Sean Bielat.

The self-effacing and intelligent 32-year-old is the son of Sheila Rauch and Joseph P Kennedy II, the second of Bobby and Ethel Kennedy’s children and himself a Democratic congressman from 1987 to 1999. Joseph P Kennedy III and his twin brother, Matt, have been immersed in politics from an early age. They were born in October 1980, around the time when his father was working on the presidential campaign of then US senator Ted Kennedy. Some of his earliest memories were of the campaign trail when his father first ran for Congress. He and his brother were six years old and enjoyed playing with campaign confetti at rallies.

“I have snapshots of that very first campaign. There are still some photographs up in my dad’s house. Both my brother and I got married last year so there were rather embarrassing photographs of us at various campaign events when we were yay tall,” he says, holding up a hand.

The freshman congressman, just two months in elected office, is deeply proud of his family’s long-standing service to public life in Massachusetts and the US. He understands the weight of the family name he carries in political office but equally he wants to plough his own furrow.

Kennedy ran an aggressive campaign last year, wearing out shoe leather meeting voters in a district spanning Brookline near Boston in the north to the southern Massachusetts coast. He says he wanted constituents to “come out and kick the tyres” – to meet him and to understand first hand his policies and values.

“It was extraordinarily important for me to give people that opportunity so they understand who they are voting for and supporting,” he says.

“I am extraordinarily proud of my family but it is important for people to know the real me and not just what they might think of when they think of various members of my family.”

Polite, eloquent and considered, Kennedy speaks with great authority and bears a striking resemblance to his grandfather. He has been busy working at his desk, despite wearing a heavily supportive sling on his right arm – the result of treatment to fix an old sporting injury. He played lacrosse while studying at Stanford University in California. A teetotal, his teammates nicknamed him “The Milkman” after one party when he matched every beer his friends drank with a glass of milk.

Kennedy studied management science and engineering at Stanford. After graduating he worked in the peace corps (founded by his great-uncle, then US president John F Kennedy, in 1961) in the Dominican Republic and East Timor. It was in East Timor that he came across Tom Hyland, the former Dublin Busdriver from Ballyfermot who became a campaigner for Asia’s poorest country – “an incredible guy”, says Kennedy.

After years of travelling, Kennedy wanted to be closer to home so he enrolled in Harvard Law School and later worked as an intern for a Republican district attorney before taking a full-time job as a prosecutor. Prosecuting cases made Kennedy look differently at every file on his desk, each one being “somebody’s life”, he says. He saw them as problems to solve rather than “another person to prosecute”, and that brought him into policy discussions about what could have been done earlier to help the person being charged. “It starts to get you looking further upstream to what caused that crime to be committed.”

In his new job, one of the biggest challenges facing Congress is the long-overdue reform of immigration laws to tackle the US’s 11 million illegal immigrants – the so-called “undocumented” of which there are thousands of Irish, including many in Kennedy’s congressional district in Massachusetts.

Kennedy’s great-uncle Ted tried and failed to push through an immigration Bill with Republican senator John McCain in 2006. But Kennedy believes there is a strong likelihood of legislation passing this time as momentum builds around broad principles on tightening border control, a pathway to citizenship, and simplifying the legal route to a visa to attract job-creating talent to the US.

“We need to get this done now. Not only do I believe it is the right thing to do morally, it is the right thing to do economically. It is the right policy decision. We have got an immigration system that I quite simply believe is broken.”

Another hot political topic is US president Barack Obama’s plans to overhaul gun ownership laws, including a ban on military-style assault weapons. Kennedy unsurprisingly supports the pressure the president is exerting on Congress to vote on the White House’s proposals; his family has experienced its own share of gun violence

“My family, yes, has a personal history with this; far too many other families have as well. I think this is something the president said very eloquently – they deserve a vote,” says Kennedy.

Passing laws through Congress is difficult when a Democratic president is continuously clashing with a House of Representatives led by Republicans, particularly over divisive budgetary issues. For a new Democratic congressman in a Republican-controlled chamber, Kennedy admits this can be “frustrating”.

“There is a party in charge here that largely wants smaller government … so fewer days in session and less legislation passed isn’t necessarily a defeat for them – that is in fact what they are looking for,” he says.

Kennedy believes government “can be a source for good” and that Congress has to “start taking on some of these problems in a real and big way”.

One of the few occasions when Democrats and Republicans put aside their differences is St Patrick’s Day. This year, Republican House speaker John Boehner will host the traditional Irish-American lunch on Capitol Hill for the Taoiseach, his visiting party and members of Congress.

Kennedy is not sure whether the congeniality that gets a small country access to the corridors of power in Washington is unique to Ireland, but it is very powerful, he says, and something he values.

“People like to be around folks who are friendly, jovial, who like to laugh and have a joke and enjoy themselves. That’s one of the great things whenever you see the St Paddy’s Day up in Boston and around the country. It is a time of joy, a time of reflection, a time of friends coming together, a time of enjoying each other’s company.”

Kennedy’s Irish heritage is “extremely important” to him, he says, acknowledging the service of his great-aunt Jean Kennedy Smith as US ambassador to Ireland, the role Ted Kennedy played in the Northern Irish peace process, and his father’s commitment to Ireland while serving in Congress. He visited Dublin a year and a half ago and is “trying to find a way back this summer”.

“The roots are so deep and, for so many members of my family, despite the fact that we might be gone a while, it is still considered by so many of us a home away from home and looked on very fondly.”

Two other prominent Irish-Americans in US politics, congressmen Stephen Lynch and Ed Markey, are fighting it out to be on the Democratic ticket in the June election for the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated by former presidential nominee John Kerry after Obama installed him as secretary of state.

Kennedy declines to say which of his congressional colleagues he will be backing. “Both of them are extraordinarily impressive individuals who will serve Massachusetts really well in the Senate or Congress,” he says.

And would this be a seat he would have an eye on in the future? “My friend, the only seat I have an eye on is the one I am sitting in right now,” he says, flashing that famous Kennedy smile


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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged this country to be better, kinder and stronger. He understood the tremendous capacity in each of us and knew that the content of this nation’s character is defined less by moments of individual action than by those fateful times when our experiences collide; where our stories meet.

He was a poet and an orator who knew that words without an audience were only words – no matter how poignant. The dream he so powerfully outlined on that hot August day in 1963 would have mattered little had it not been for the hundreds of thousands of brave believers in the crowd, ready to take his message back home to the streets of their cities and towns, where it mattered most.

Today we swear in a great President who embodies the future Dr. King envisioned. In a day that unites our past and future in a poignant, present moment, we pledge to work together and do better by the legacy they share.”

Congressman Joe Kennedy III

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Joseph Kennedy III Takes Oath Of Office In Congress


BOSTON (AP) — Joseph Kennedy III has been sworn in as the state’s newest congressman.

The Brookline Democrat fills the 4th Congressional District seat formerly held by Barney Frank.

Kennedy took his oath of office on the House floor Thursday.

Kennedy said in a statement that he looked forward to working with constituents, community leaders and local officials to help preserve what he called the 4th District’s “proud tradition of innovation and a work ethic that has fueled economic growth for generations.”

The state’s eight other House members — all Democratic incumbents — were also sworn in Thursday.

Kennedy is the first member of the famous political clan to take a seat in Congress since the death of his uncle, Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, in 2009 and the retirement of Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Edward Kennedy’s son, in 2011.


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Joseph Kennedy marries Harvard sweetheart in stunning seaside event


Representative-elect Joseph P. Kennedy III wed fiancée Lauren Anne Birchfield on Saturday afternoon in Corona del Mar, California surrounded by family and friends, according to spokeswoman Emily Browne.
Birchfield’s father, the Rev. Jim Birchfield, officiated at the ceremony at Community Church, Browne said in a statement.
Kennedy, the 32-year-old son of Joseph P. Kennedy II, former US representative, and the grandson of US Senator Robert F. Kennedy, beat Republican Sean Bielat last month to win the Congressional seat left vacant by the retirement of U.S. Representative Barney Frank.
Birchfield’s parents announced Kennedy and Birchfield’s engagement in January.
Community Church, where Mr and Ms. Kennedy were married, is set in this quiet residential neighborhood near the Pacific Ocean and holds about 200 people.
Corona del Mar (Spanish for “Crown of the Sea”) is a well-heeled neighborhood in Newport Beach, California. The new bride grew up in Southern California.
Ms Kennedy was a Rhodes finalist at UCLA, where she graduated in 2006 with a degree in political science. She also studied at Oxford University in England, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 2009.
Ms Kennedy has worked on human rights and health care policy, and recently accepted a position with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts where she will focus on health care policy. She currently lives in Boston.

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