BOSTON – Former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, the eldest son of Robert F. Kennedy, announced Monday he would not run for the U.S. Senate seat held for nearly 50 years by his late uncle, Edward M. Kennedy. The decision was certain to widen the race for the Democratic nomination.
In a statement, the former six-term congressman said he cares about those seeking decent housing, fair wages and health care. But he added, “The best way for me to contribute to those causes is by continuing my work at Citizens Energy Corp.”
The nonprofit organization provides free heating oil to the poor, but Kennedy likely would have faced campaign questions about fuel it received from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – a persistent U.S. critic. He also has settled into a comfortable lifestyle since leaving Congress in 1999, taking home a $545,000 salary as Citizens Energy’s president as of 2007, and being spared the barbs he has faced from some local columnists recently for his past temper tantrums and high pay.
Yet Kennedy also may have garnered support from the legions of Massachusetts Democrats who long supported his uncle, to whom he paid tribute in a widely applauded memorial service speech last month. He also had name recognition among national followers of his father, who was a U.S. senator from New York when he was assassinated in June 1968 while seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.
“My father called politics an honorable profession, and I have profound respect for those who choose to advance the causes of social and economic justice in elective office,” the 56-year-old Kennedy said. Friends said that among those who had been urging him to consider a candidacy were his own sons, 28-year-old twins Matthew and Joseph III.
The decision surrenders a seat the Kennedy family has held for all but two years since 1953, when John F. Kennedy moved from the U.S. House to the Senate, before being elected president in 1960. It became vacant Aug. 25, when Edward Kennedy died of brain cancer at age 77. He was first elected to the Senate in 1962.
It also removes an excuse for three veteran Massachusetts congressmen – Reps. Michael Capuano, Edward J. Markey and John Tierney – who have said they are considering campaigns but would not run against a member of the Kennedy family. The senator’s widow, Vicki, had previously ruled out a campaign.
In a fiery speech Monday morning to a Boston labor breakfast, Capuano sought to distinguish himself from unnamed competitors.
“Everybody loves you today,” the congressman told a crowd of about 400, including Tierney and Markey. “Everybody’s for prevailing wage, everybody’s for (project-labor agreements), everybody’s for this, that and the other thing. Me too. That’s good. But when it comes time to make the tough decisions, that’s when you start to figure who’s with you and who’s not.”