Since the retirement of Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island in 2010, no member of the Kennedy political dynasty has held national office, the first time that has been the case since 1947. But 32-year-old Joseph [Joe] Kennedy III, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, is poised to continue the family legacy in January when he is sworn in to represent the 4th District.
The son of former Rep. Joe Kennedy II, Kennedy was born in Brighton, attended the elite Buckingham, Browne and Nichols School and shuffled between his divorced parents’ homes in Cambridge and Brighton with his fraternal twin, Matt. Both he and Matt majored in management science and engineering at Stanford University, where Kennedy was also a starting lacrosse goalie and team cocaptain with Matt. His teammates also knew him as a committed teetotaler, reportedly ordering him milk when they went out to bars and nicknaming him “Milkman.”
After graduating in 2003, Kennedy embarked on two years in the Peace Corps, which marked the beginning of his interest in helping the disadvantaged. While serving in the Dominican Republic from 2004 to 2006, he worked in Rio Damajagua Park to ensure that local tour guides were fairly paid. Fluent in Spanish, he’s still in touch with people he met there and returns frequently.
Kennedy helped Matt manage their great-uncle Edward Kennedy’s 2006 Senate reelection campaign, and went on to study law at Harvard, where he was active in the Legal Aid Bureau, advocating for tenants facing eviction from foreclosed properties. He also worked on the Human Rights Journal and started an after-school program for at-risk youth in Boston. After graduating in 2009, Kennedy became an assistant prosecutor in the Cape and Islands District Attorney’s Office and moved up to assistant district attorney in Middlesex County in 2011.
For nearly as long as Kennedy has been alive, Democratic Rep. Barney Frank has represented Massachusetts’ 4th District. When Frank decided to retire this year after redistricting made the district slightly more conservative, Kennedy moved to Brookline to run for the seat. The AFL-CIO union quickly endorsed him, and Kennedy easily secured the nomination in a September primary with 90 percent of the vote.
Kennedy made fairness the central theme of his fall campaign, talking often about leveling the economic playing field and creating equal opportunity for education and jobs. He also championed abortion rights. Kennedy got help from his family, with grandmother Ethel Kennedy and both of his parents standing on street corners for him. Matt remains his most trusted confidant. “A day doesn’t go by when I don’t talk to my twin brother,” Kennedy said in an interview.
Kennedy’s GOP opponent, Marine reservist Sean Bielat, argued that Kennedy was running on his name. And an October Boston Globe editorial echoed Bielat’s criticism of Kennedy for not agreeing to more debates. Kennedy characterized Bielat as a rubber stamp for the budget proposals of Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, including a plan to introduce vouchers into the Medicare program. Bielat also joined Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in supporting across-the-board tax cuts. But he was vastly outraised by Kennedy, $476,000 to $3 million by the end of summer.
Despite the redistricting changes, the 4th still leans Democratic, and Kennedy defeated Bielat in November.