By Susan Milligan, Globe Staff | March 1, 2010
WASHINGTON - Joseph P. Kennedy III said yesterday that he will not run for Congress this year, ending feverish speculation that the young Cape Cod prosecutor would seek the 10th District seat if Representative William Delahunt retires.
Kennedy, the son of former US representative Joseph P. Kennedy II and grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, said in an interview that he was very happy in his current job as an assistant district attorney for the Cape & Islands and decided, after reflection, that he did not want to leave that position yet.
“I think that we’ve got a great congressman. He continues to serve the people of the 10th District well,’’ the 29-year-old Kennedy said of Delahunt. “I’m a longtime supporter of his, and I hope he runs again.’’
Kennedy said he wasn’t ruling out a run for public office in the future, but wanted to stay in the DA’s office for now.
“Elective office and public service are obviously something that have long ties with my family, and something I’m definitely interested in. Right now, I’ve got a job I love, and hope to get better at,’’ Kennedy said.
Kennedy said he had been approached by Democrats about running when rumors began to circulate that Delahunt would retire. He considered it, he said, and discussed it with family members.
“People came up to me and said, ‘Hey - if he doesn’t run, you really should think about it,’ ’’ Kennedy said.
Finally, he decided that “being a member of Congress is a great job, but I’ve already got a great job,’’ Kennedy said.
“My family wasn’t encouraging me one way or the other,’’ Kennedy added. “They were really supportive all the way through. Every member of my family knows that running for office is a personal decision.’’
Former Bay State senator Paul Kirk, a Democrat who is a close friend of the Kennedy family, said the decision was “a sign of his maturity.’’
“It’s a sign of his own strength and balance, and being well-grounded’’ that Kennedy has put off a run for office, Kirk said.
“Certainly, time is on his side,’’ Kirk added.
Kennedy’s decision adds a new development to the political drama over the fate of Delahunt’s seat. Some local Democrats believed that Delahunt was seriously considering retirement, but first wanted to help set up Kennedy to run for the seat.
Delahunt was very close to Edward M. Kennedy, and has long professed a fatherly fondness for the younger Joe Kennedy, admiring the recent Harvard Law School graduate’s work on human rights and in the Peace Corps his great-uncle, President John F. Kennedy, founded.
But the younger Kennedy’s decision to stay in Barnstable as a prosecutor ends that speculation.
Delahunt has said repeatedly that he reconsiders whether to run in March of every election year, and has not decided whether he will seek another term.
Delahunt could not be reached yesterday, but spokesman Mark Forest said “nothing has changed,’’ adding that the 68-year-old congressman was still mulling his future.
So far, 20 Republican House members and 14 of their Democratic colleagues have announced they will not run for reelection during what is expected to be a brutal campaign year for incumbents in general, and Democrats especially.
Kennedy said his was “a personal decision,’’ and not related to the current challenging climate for Democrats or the poisonous environment on Capitol Hill that has frustrated lawmakers in both parties.
The development yesterday means that the next Congress will not include a Kennedy family member for the first time in nearly a half-century.
At one time, Congress included three Kennedys - Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who died last year; Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II, who served six terms before leaving in early 1999 to return to his work at Citizens Energy, which provides cut-rate home heating oil to consumers; and Representative Patrick Kennedy, Democrat of Rhode Island.
Patrick Kennedy announced in mid-February that he would not seek a ninth term in the House, saying he wanted to “follow a different path.’’ Associates expect him to work on mental health issues in the private sector.
The Ocean State lawmaker, who has spent half his life in elected office, has struggled with alcohol and drug addiction and depression, and colleagues in both parties privately said they worried that the death of Senator Kennedy, the congressman’s father, added too much stress on the 42-year-old.
Other members of the Kennedy clan have gotten involved in public service outside of elected office: Ted Kennedy Jr., the late senator’s son, is on the board of a disabilities rights group. The late Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is an environmental lawyer.
But in young Joe Kennedy, family friends and colleagues saw the promise of another legendary elected Kennedy official and hoped he would begin a political career. The assistant district attorney has none of the personal baggage that weighed down some other family members and has demonstrated a strong interest in human rights and development.
As a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic, Kennedy worked on an ecotourism project, helping locals take control of the tourist attraction and setting more reliable safety standards for local guides. Kennedy is featured in a recruitment video for the Peace Corps. In addition, Kennedy was technical editor of the Harvard Human Rights Journal and cofounded a program to help at-risk youth at a Boston public school.
“Joe Kennedy is a very smart, capable prosecutor who, I think, will be a great candidate for public office at some time in the future,’’ said Martin T. Meehan, a former US representative who is now chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
“Frankly, I think he’d be a great candidate if Bill [Delahunt] elected not to run. At the same time, he’s got a great job as ADA [where] he can get valuable experience as a prosecutor,’’ Meehan said. But he added that he hoped Kennedy would one day make a run for office.
“He represents what Bobby Kennedy and Jack Kennedy and Teddy Kennedy were all about,’’ Meehan said