Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kennedys return, this time to 4th congressional district

So, Joe Kennedy III appears poised to return his famous family to political office. His father, Joe, was a Congressman from the 8th congressional district, that seat famously held by his uncle Jack before he became President. Young Joe has resigned from his post in the Middlesex District Attorney’s office and set up an exploratory committee. But, is he a shoo-in simply because of his name?

Not necessarily. Only need look only at his uncle Max Kennedy who, for a nanosecond in 2001, was a candidate for the late Joe Moakley’s seat in Congress. In his first political speech, he lost his place, got confused, and unaccountably giggled. Onlookers speculated he was caught off guard by the media hordes. In later presentations, he got some facts wrong and was perceived as stumbling and inept. In presentation coaching, I’ve often used that particular Kennedy oops as an example of someone who thought he could just go out there and not have to prepare for it. His candidacy was short-lived, as was that of the normally poised Caroline Kennedy, who briefly ran for U.S. Senate from New York, with similar results.

But, while not being a shoo-in, Joe Kennedy III could shape the race for the retiring Barney Frank’s district. As the Boston Globe noted this morning, people may not know Joe specifically, but they sure do know his family. Some voters will reject him due to lingering antipathy to the Kennedy family; others (including some blue-collar Democrats who voted for Scott Brown and want to atone for that) want to restore the dynasty.

We all, of course, have to find out much more about him: what his policy prescriptions are, how he responds to tough questions, what makes him tick. He is largely a blank slate, with a broad smile and engaging manner. The couple of times I’ve met him, he has demonstrated he has “the touch.” He's friendly and down to earth, looks you straight in the eye, seems to value the connection, however brief. Well pedigreed, he is said to be very bright. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and my initial impression of Joe Kennedy III is very positive.

That said, he’ll have to prove that he should win rather than other candidates, such as Boston City Councilor Mike Ross. Ross has a solid track record, served as the Council President for two terms. and grew up in the 4th district. Ross’ father, Stephan Ross, is a well known Holocaust survivor, who worked with Kitty Dukakis to get the Holocaust Memorial in downtown Boston built. In a multicandidate primary, if ethnic identity plays a role, there is a significant Jewish vote in Newton, Brookline, and Sharon, which could figure measurably in the outcome.

But the new redistricting lines make the district far less liberal than that which sent Bob Drinan and Barney Frank to Congress for decades. Republican Sean Beilat, who ran last time, would be a credible opponent should he decide to run. Brookline School Committee member Elizabeth Childs, a psychiatrist, is already campaigning and will make Bielat work for the Republican nomination.

This all makes for a very interesting contest, one about which there are no foregone conclusions, Kennedy or not.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.


  1. I agree with your take. I was living somewhere else during the , Brown/Coakley Senate race. From afar (even with some knowledge of MA)it seemed as if Martha Coakley, EXPECTED to be a Senator; Scott Brown WANTED to be one. You have to want every vote, and make clear to every voter you meet, that you're out there earning their vote. There's no coronation, we settled that in 1776.

  2. "including some blue-collar Democrats who voted for Scott Brown and want to atone for that..."