Patrick Kennedy said today he was relinquishing his Rhode Island congressional seat to "follow a different path," a move that would leave Congress without a Kennedy for the first time in more than six decades. But he also indicated that some member of the Kennedy clan might make a political comeback.
"I wouldn't count us out for good, you know," he said in an interview in the lobby of a Providence television station.
"It's just been a personal decision to follow a different path in life," said Kennedy, who was touring Rhode Island media outlets to discuss his decision not to seek reelection in the fall. "I think people just reach a point in their life where they choose to go a different direction. It's really nothing more complicated than that."
He said his family had been supportive of his decision, noting that his aunt, Ethel Kennedy, widow of his assassinated uncle Robert F. Kennedy, had called to thank him for his service. "I mean, to me, my Aunt Ethel is a hero of mine, so it's humbling to me," he said.
Kennedy told other media outlets that the death last year of his father, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, had caused him to do some soul-searching and he wanted to focus more on his personal life.
"It's pretty simple in this respect: I went through something that caused me a great deal of soul searching and self-reflection. Right now, a personal life is of greater value. Emotional connections that are real and loving and personal just trump everything else," Kennedy said in an article in Rhode Island Monthly.
"Something like that forces you to have reconsideration of what's really important in your life," he told WJAR-TV in Providence.
"I wouldn't have changed a thing in terms of my service in politics because it really gave me a great opportunity to feel of service, but I also know that having those personal relationships are very important, too, and they take time and they take investment. And I want to make those investments and spend that time developing those relationships. So there's that chance now that I have in the future to do that kind of thing," Kennedy told the TV station.
Asked if a tough reelection fight had any bearing on his decision, Kennedy told the Globe that "I've faced a lot more difficult political obstacles than anything I'm facing now. People in this state have been with me through very big ups and downs, and it's nothing in my mind that would have prevented me from reconnecting with them."
Kennedy, who has struggled with alcoholism, depression, and drug addiction, and worked on those issues in Congress, told WJAR-TV that he wants to work "in a more hands-on way" to help people in recovery. And he didn't rule out returning to politics, saying he considered that he was taking a "kind of sabbatical."
Born July 14, 1967 in the Brighton section of Boston, Kennedy became a Rhode Island state representative while still attending Providence College. He was elected to Congress from the state's First District in 1994 and was reelected seven more times. He was embroiled in a number of minor scandals over the years, including the revelations that he had checked himself into rehab facilities several times, an incident in which he shoved an airport security guard, and an incident in which he crashed his car into a security barrier near the US Capitol. Near the start of his political career, in 1991, he also had to testify in the Florida rape trial of his cousin William Kennedy Smith, who was eventually acquitted.
His greatest contributions as a lawmaker were on mental health issues.
In August, he gave an emotional eulogy at his father's funeral, remembering being a child who craved his father's love and attention. "When his light shined on me alone, there was no better feeling in all of the world," he said.
Darrell M. West, the author of a book on Kennedy's political life in Rhode Island published in 2000, said, "It's difficult being a Kennedy. People see the upside, without being aware of the downside.''
"The downside of being a Kennedy," West said, "is that people love you or hate based on your last name. They donít judge you as an individual. They have all these preconceptions based on the family name.''
West also noted that Patrick Kennedy's mental health issues could be aggravated by the public life he has led since being elected 16 years ago. "Moving out of the public spotlight should help him get a handle on his private life,'' West said.
West is the author of "Patrick Kennedy: The Rise to Power." He said he won't be updating his book to add a new, final chapter as a result of Kennedy's decision. "He has a lot of life to be lived,'' West said.
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