This well-worn practice of pre-electoral grooming dates back to JFK’s run for Congress, when Ambassador Kennedy shamelessly flogged his son’s war record. Thomas O’Connor’s The Boston Irish (Northeastern University Press, 1995) shows a photograph of JFK clad in his Navy dress blues next to Curley and Governor Maurice Tobin at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. Kennedy’s father donated funds to establish a VFW post in Charlestown named for his son Joseph. (To be sure, Kennedy actually had an impressive war record, and his résumé was bolstered by having already published a book about pre–World War II Great Britain titled Why England Slept [Wilfred Funk, 1940]). Likewise, when RFK’s son Joe ran for Congress in 1986, his campaign made much of his work building Citizens Energy. And Patrick Kennedy borrowed heavily from this script when he ran for Congress in 1994. As West’s book recounts, Patrick’s campaign produced an ad showing him at work in the state legislature, battling both the gun lobby and State House insiders. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he’d actually spend six years in the legislature, forging alliances with the likes of George Carulo, who subsequently became the Rhode Island House majority leader.
But Kennedy campaigns are about much more than the specific experience of the candidate at hand. They’re all about articulating and fulfilling the obligation the privileged bear toward those who have less. They’re about pursuing the Democratic ideal that gave us Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and welfare. And if Max runs, his campaign is sure to be saturated with this rhetoric. “Max represents a tradition of concern for the least fortunate among us — those left behind by the new economy,” says Steve Grossman, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and current candidate for governor. “My guess is that the Bobby Kennedy boomlet that began on the 30th anniversary of his death will continue and be accelerated by Max’s presence in this race. They’re very powerful themes in the Democratic primary.”
AS TEAM Kennedy works to conjure a real candidate from Max, it will draw heavily on the Kennedy mystique. “Soon there will be the story about the Kennedy name,” says Darrell West. “Then they’ll start bringing celebrities in. They really start driving the press coverage over a couple of months.”
Take Patrick’s inaugural run for Congress, when he called in cousins John F. Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg to campaign for him. Or you could take it all the way back to JFK’s run for Congress in 1946, when he campaigned with his grandfather John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, who had once held the same congressional seat.
Beyond celebrities and relatives with clout — hello, Uncle Ted — Team Kennedy will call on political connections. For example, Senator Kennedy might use his sway with organized labor to win an endorsement for Max — or at least persuade labor to remain neutral. This tactic, too, originated in JFK’s runs for Congress. To handle the details of the campaign, Ambassador Kennedy turned to a trusted friend and cousin, Joe Kane, a veteran of Martin Lomasney’s machine. The West End’s Lomasney, nicknamed “the Mahatma,” had died in 1933, but he was Boston’s last great ward boss, a figure whose fame was comparable to that of the most powerful ward politicians in New York or Chicago. As Peter Collier and David Horowitz recount in The Kennedys: An American Drama (Summit, 1984), Kane once changed election signs for Curley from boston needs curley to boston feeds curley.
Kennedys are especially fond of using close friends and relatives as campaign aides — a practice rooted more in Joseph P. Kennedy’s distrust of outsiders than in Fitzgerald’s machine politics of old. Robert Kennedy was his brother Jack’s campaign manager when JFK ran for the Senate in 1952, and again when he ran for president in 1960. Ted Kennedy’s 1962 campaign was run by Stephen Smith, husband of his sister Jean. And Joe Kennedy got his then-friend Chuck McDermott to manage his 1986 run for Congress — while brother Michael was in charge of fundraising. Patrick turned to a friend, Tony Marcella, to manage his 1994 campaign; and he relied heavily on the services of Democratic pollster and political consultant Tubby Harrison, who’d worked for Tom Menino and the presidential campaigns of Michael Dukakis and Paul Tsongas. It’s unclear who will serve officially as Max Kennedy’s campaign manager, but if he sticks with the family pattern, it will be a very close Kennedy insider or relative. In the meantime, Max, like his cousin Patrick, will have access to political heavyweights such as consultant Doug Hattaway, who worked for Gore during his presidential campaign and burned up the TV talk circuit during the extended Florida recount.
THE BIG question, of course, is how all this will play in the Ninth Congressional District, which ranges from blue-collar South Boston and Dorchester to middle-class West Roxbury, Dedham, and Braintree to wealthy Medfield and Westwood. A collection of hardened political warriors are readying themselves to fight for the seat. Those said to be considering a run for the Democratic primary include State Senator Stephen Lynch of South Boston, State Senator Marc Pacheco of Taunton, State Senator Brian Joyce of Milton, State Representative Joseph Sullivan of Braintree, Boston city councilor Stephen Murphy, and Brockton mayor John Yunitis — even political veteran Joe Timilty. Of all these, only Kennedy is a carpetbagger. (Republican sources say several people from their party, none with significant electoral experience, have expressed interest in the race. Though it’s unclear who the GOP would field, changing demographics in the district suggest that a serious Republican challenger might have a chance. In the 1998 governor’s race, Democratic stronghold South Boston went for Republican Paul Cellucci over Democrat Scott Harshbarger. And outlying suburban areas are clearly favorable for a more conservative candidate.)
In fact, the Kennedys are often accused of being carpetbaggers, but the charge doesn’t really stick. JFK had roots in the district he took in 1946; it ran through the North End and East Boston, where some of the Kennedys still lived. Joe Kennedy already lived in the Eighth Congressional District when he ran for office in 1986. Even Patrick had ties to Rhode Island that went beyond his experience as a state rep: he went to school at Providence College. “Patrick Kennedy had one tremendous advantage that this fellow [Max] doesn’t have,” says M. Charles Bakst, chief political columnist for the Providence Journal. “Patrick had the foresight to run for the Rhode Island legislature six years before he ran for Congress. The fact that he served in the state legislature, and attended Providence College before that, virtually eliminated any suggestion by 1994 that he was a carpetbagger.”