Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D)
Elected: 1994, 8th term.
Born: July 14, 1967, Brighton, MA .
Education: Providence Col., B.A. 1991.
Elected office: RI House of Reps., 1988–94.
The representative from the 1st District is Patrick Kennedy, a Democrat first elected in 1994 and the son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Patrick was born in 1967, during his father’s fifth year in the Senate. His uncle John F. Kennedy was assassinated before Patrick was born. When Patrick was 2, his father’s career was nearly ended by the scandal of Chappaquiddick. A young woman traveling with Sen. Kennedy in his car drowned after the car plunged off a bridge. Patrick grew up in McLean, Va., and had a somewhat troubled youth, spending time in a drug rehabilitation clinic in 1986. The next year, he enrolled in Providence College in Rhode Island at age 20, and almost immediately ran for public office. He beat longtime incumbent John Skeffington for a seat in the state House after Kennedy family members swarmed the tiny district to raise money for him. In 1991, his famous family again was a factor in his career, but not in a positive way. It was revealed that Patrick spent the Easter weekend in Palm Beach, Fla., with his father and cousin William Kennedy Smith, who was accused of raping a young woman during the trip. Smith was later acquitted. In 1994, when Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Machtley ran for governor, Kennedy decided to try for Machtley’s seat. He had an attractive and energetic Republican opponent in Kevin Vigilante, a doctor who worked with handicapped orphans in Romania. But Kennedy had the advantages of party, money and the Kennedy name, and won 54%-46% in a Republican year.
|Patrick Kennedy (D)||145,254||(69%)||($1,791,870)|
|Jonathan Scott (R)||51,340||(24%)||($265)|
|Kenneth Capalbo (I)||15,108||(7%)|
|Patrick Kennedy (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (69%), 2004 (64%), 2002 (60%), 2000 (67%), 1998 (67%), 1996 (69%), 1994 (54%)
In the House, Kennedy has a mostly liberal voting record with more-centrist views on national security issues. He has proven an excitable if not always eloquent debater. He has strongly supported gun control, an issue with family reverberations. He supported reauthorization of the assault weapons ban and, in 2003, criticized Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean for his statements that new gun control laws should be left to the states. But on foreign policy, Kennedy has strongly opposed Fidel Castro; he voted for the 2000 bill that would have made 6-year-old refugee Elian Gonzalez a U.S. citizen and for keeping the travel ban on Cuba in 2003. Kennedy also voted for the 2002 Iraq war resolution, which his father opposed in the Senate. As the insurgency against U.S. forces grew, the younger Kennedy criticized President Bush’s conduct of the war and said he had been deceived by the administration’s statements on the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He has voted several times for the “partial-birth” abortion ban, which abortion-rights forces opposed.
After easily winning re-election with 69% of the vote in 1996, Kennedy eyed a race for the Senate seat held by Republican John Chafee. He criticized Chafee sharply for several votes, but Chafee fought back gamely, returning often to the state, working hard on local projects, and his standing in the polls, never weak, slowly rose. Meanwhile, the harshness of Kennedy’s attacks evidently grated; his job approval fell from 62% to 44% during the year. So Kennedy turned his focus to increasing his influence in the House. He struck up a friendship with Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and let it be known that he would support Gephardt for president against Al Gore in 2000. When Gephardt decided not to run, but rather to concentrate on helping Democrats win a House majority, he enlisted Kennedy as an ally. In November 1998, Gephardt named him chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which helps elect Democrats to the House.
As DCCC chairman, Kennedy excelled not as a strategist but as a fundraiser. He traveled indefatigably around the country and made yeoman efforts to raise soft money, even while calling for campaign finance legislation that would outlaw the large, uncapped donations. As a result, the DCCC in 1999 and 2000 raised nearly $50 million in soft money, reaching parity with the National Republican Congressional Committee. The Republicans raised more hard money, but Kennedy vastly reduced the disadvantage his party labored under in the 1996 and 1998 elections. Sadly for Kennedy, Democrats were unsuccessful in their effort to achieve a net gain of six seats and a majority in the House.
Kennedy had spent only 40 days in the state while heading the DCCC. His standing with the folks at home was further eroded by a series of imbroglios. In March 2000, he shoved an airport security guard in Los Angeles, sending her backward and jostling the metal detector. A police complaint was filed, and during an informal hearing in May 2000, Kennedy apologized to the woman. It was also revealed that his insurance company had had to settle multiple damage claims made against Kennedy by owners of sailboats he had chartered. Kennedy won re-election with 67% of the vote, but his job-approval ratings in the district plummeted. In January 2001, his New Year’s resolution seemed to be to make amends to his district. He successfully secured federal money for Rhode Island’s military bases and for hospitals, schools and bridges. Kennedy joined Democratic Sen. Jack Reed in seeking to give permanent residence to the 10,000 Liberian refugees in Rhode Island, and in March 2006, he helped get the Appropriations Committee to vote for $50 million in extra aid for Liberia. No local cause seemed too small for Kennedy. He got $750,000 for the Norman Bird Sanctuary, $25,000 for computers at the Leon Matthieu Senior Center in Pawtucket and $4 million for the Blackstone River Bikeway. He sometimes presented the checks personally, and he was defiant as critics increasingly condemned such “earmarking” of federal funds for parochial projects. Handing a $150,000 check to the Smithfield police department, Kennedy said, “This is from me. This is one of those famous earmarks.”
Kennedy, who has struggled through the years with manic depression, alcoholism and addiction to pain killers, made parity for mental health insurance coverage his signature national issue. In 2004, he co-sponsored with his father a bipartisan bill extending the 1996 parity law by eliminating unequal limits on numbers of inpatient days and outpatient days in insurance policies. But the dark cloud shadowing the Kennedy clan never seemed to permanently dissipate for Patrick. At 2:50 a.m. in May 2006, he drove his car into a security barrier outside the House office buildings. He told the Capitol police that he needed to vote, but the House had adjourned hours before. Kennedy said he had not been drinking but had become disoriented by prescription medicines he was taking. He checked himself into the Mayo Clinic for a one-month addiction treatment program. In June 2006, Kennedy pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of prescription medicines and was sentenced to one year of probation. This incident seems to have caused him no political problems in Rhode Island. A Washington Post reporter could find nary a constituent who said he was less likely to vote for him that year. One said, “Course not. You kidding me? Politicians drink like fish around here.”
In the run-up to the 2006 election, some of his supporters even urged Kennedy to run against Lincoln Chafee, the son of John Chafee who’d been appointed to his father’s seat after the elder Chafee died in office in 1999. But Kennedy declined to make the race, saying he wanted to keep working in the House and on the Appropriations Committee. He endorsed former Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat who beat Chafee 54%-46%. With his father, Kennedy was an early and active supporter of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. The following year brought further personal travails for the family. While Edward Kennedy fought for life against a malignant brain tumor, son Patrick in June 2009 again sought treatment at a rehab facility.