Rep. Kennedy Bows Out, Spelling End to Family Era

12 Feb

Kennedy’s Announcement a Stunner

 

From The Boston Globe

Feb. 12, 2010

WASHINGTON – US Representative Patrick Kennedy has decided not to seek reelection, capping a dramatic year for the Kennedy family and probably leaving it without a member in Washington for the first time in more than six decades.

Kennedy made the decision based on “some personal struggles,’’ including the death in August of his father, Edward M. Kennedy, according to a Democratic official briefed on the decision. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because Patrick Kennedy has not yet made a formal announcement.

That announcement is expected to come Sunday, when a TV advertisement taped by Kennedy is set to air in Rhode Island. In that tape, circulated by the media last night, Kennedy says his “life is taking a new direction, and I will not be a candidate for reelection this year.’’

In the two-minute ad, with soft music playing in the background, he says he wants to continue working to help those with depression, addiction, autism, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“My father taught me that politics at its very core was about serving others,’’ Kennedy says in the video, as black-and-white images of him and his father flash across the screen. “For two decades I’ve been humbled and honored to represent the people of our state.’’

Unless another Kennedy decides to run for Congress and wins, Patrick Kennedy’s decision will mean that a Kennedy family member, or close associate, will not be serving in Congress next year for the first time since 1947. The Kennedys last month also saw the seat long held by the late senator go to Republican Scott Brown. Patrick Kennedy called Brown’s candidacy “a joke.’’

Kennedy, 42, has held the seat – one of two congressional seats in Rhode Island – for the past 16 years. Several close to Kennedy said last night that he had been mulling over the decision for as long as a year.

“This is something he’s been thinking about for a while,’’ said an official familiar with Kennedy’s thinking. “He and I talked about it about 10 months ago.’’

But he has also struggled with depression and drug addiction, and has made advocating for mental health treatment a political cause. He checked himself into an addiction treatment center last year because he said he was showing signs of a relapse.

In 2006, after he pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence of prescription drugs relating to an early-morning car crash outside the Capitol, he checked himself into the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

In his taped message, Kennedy thanked voters for their support, through his good times and bad.

“When I made missteps or suffered setbacks, you responded not with contempt, but compassion,’’ he said. “Thank you for all the times you lifted me up, pushed me forward.’’

Rhode Island’s voters have tended to forgive Kennedy, who was among the speakers at his father’s funeral last year, telling tales of both the struggles he had as a boy with asthma and how much he looked up to his father.

He has won reelection comfortably, but was being challenged this year by state Representative John J. Loughlin II, a Republican of Tiverton.

Kennedy has been seen as vulnerable, particularly after 62 percent of voters statewide gave the eight-term congressman an unfavorable job rating in a poll released last week by WPRI-TV (Channel 12). Just 35 percent of respondents in Kennedy’s district said they would vote to reelect him.

Kennedy was also a flashpoint recently when he clashed with Rhode Island Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, who denied him Communion over his support for abortion rights. Kennedy was supporting a health care overhaul with a measure that provided for abortion rights, and criticized the church for opposing the legislation.

Word of Kennedy’s decision spread through the political world last night.

Raymond L. Flynn, former mayor of Boston, said he felt Kennedy made the right choice in passing on a reelection bid, since Democrats have had a “bad year’’ and the congressman is still reeling from the loss of his father.

“He feels terrible about the loss of his father, and to put himself through a difficult campaign is probably not in his best health interest,’’ Flynn said.

He said Rhode Island politicians of all stripes could make a serious run for Kennedy’s seat.

Scott Ferson, Democratic consultant and a former press secretary for Senator Kennedy, said the congressman views public service “like his father would.’’

That means “you don’t have to be in elective office to do the things you care about,’’ Ferson said. “It’s more expansive than that, and [Congressman Kennedy] obviously lost his best friend down there last year in Washington.’’

George Nee, president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, said he was shocked at the news. “It’s coming as a complete surprise,’’ Nee said.

Kennedy was first elected to a political office in 1988, when he won a seat in the Rhode Island State House at the age of 21.

Six years later, the boyish redhead was elected to the US House of Representatives and followed the advice of his father to be a workhorse, not a show horse, on Capitol Hill. He impressed colleagues by learning the names of the other 434 members of the House – an unusual feat in a chamber where few lawmakers, let alone freshmen members, can identify every one of their colleagues.

John Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, said he had “no idea’’ why Kennedy chose not to seek reelection, adding that politics is a “tough business’’ that takes a toll on elected officials and their families.

“I think the people of Rhode Island have been well represented by the congressman and his voice will be missed on the national stage,’’ Walsh said.

 

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Stewart Bishop contributed to this report.

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