jersey ralph lauren hombre Keeping Up With the Kennedys
Doggone It is a small doggie day care and grooming salon in Needham, Mass., a quiet suburb of Boston. It caters to area residents and their pets, but on a hot morning in July, a young man in a dark suit, followed by an equally young and well dressed entourage, entered the store and sent Doggone It’s half dozen dogs into a frenzy. Joseph P. Kennedy III introduced himself to the store’s owners and explained, over the din of barking dogs, that he was running for Congress. Kennedy smiled and asked the women how their day was going (“Good!”), if they had any concerns that he should know about (“Don’t think so!”) and if they would please e mail him if they ever did (“Sure!”).
As he leaned down to pet the dogs, the women of Doggone It exchanged quiet but unmistakable looks of the “Oh, my God, I just met a Kennedy” variety. Joe, after all, is the 31 year old grandson of Robert F. Kennedy and the son of Joe Kennedy II, a six term Massachusetts congressman. (His great uncles include John F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy.) He is handsome, too, but not quite in a conventional Kennedy way. He has bright orange hair that sometimes curls into a forelock, blue green eyes and pale freckles. He has been compared to Conan O’Brien (besides being a redhead, he’s also fairly tall), but looks more like a mash up of Prince Harry, the “Hunger Games” actor Josh Hutcherson and a bird.
As he made the rounds in Doggone It, Kennedy leaned awkwardly into a showcase, straining to hear over the barking of the dogs, who were now running through a pool of their own urine that spread across the patched linoleum floor. “Oops,” one of the women said, crouching down to soak it up with a paper towel. Kennedy either didn’t notice or pretended not to as he asked about their business and the state of things in Needham. One by one, his entourage press people and an “advance” guy, among others slipped outside to wait where it was quieter. Kennedy finally emerged. “Whoa,” he said, a little shellshocked. This was the sixth stop on his trip through town. Next was a candy store, a barber, a knitting store and an outdoor cafe, which was essentially a few tables on the sidewalk, where he held court with local officials.
It’s safe to say that the recent past has not been a glorious one for the extended Kennedy clan. When Patrick J. Kennedy relinquished his Rhode Island House seat in early 2011, it marked the first time since 1947 that there was no Kennedy in national elected office. Then, in May, Mary Richardson Kennedy, the estranged wife of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., hanged herself in her Westchester County barn. Because of a public fight over funeral arrangements, some members of the Richardson family did not attend the service. Weeks later, Kerry Kennedy, the ex wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, ran into a tractor trailer on an Interstate highway in New York and continued driving to the next exit despite a flat passenger side tire. Then Conor Kennedy, the 18 year old son of Robert Kennedy Jr. and Mary Richardson Kennedy, began a romance with the pop star Taylor Swift, which was relentlessly covered by the tabloids. Swift reportedly bought a $4.9 million home near the Kennedys’ Hyannis Port compound.
By comparison, Joe Kennedy spent the summer traveling in Massachusetts’ newly redrawn Fourth District the one that Barney Frank has represented since 1981, a year after Kennedy was born. Last winter, after Frank announced his retirement, Kennedy moved into the district and soon began his campaign. During the past few months, he has visited senior citizens at bingo night in Taunton, eaten gluten free cupcakes at a bakery in Millis, cheered at a tractor pull in Rehoboth and greeted Green Line commuters. Through individual donations and about $200,000 from various PACs, he has taken in nearly $3 million, about six times the total of his nearest opponent. He clinched the Democratic nomination on Sept. 6.
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Part of Kennedy’s appeal is that, unlike many of his family members, he has led a decidedly drama free life. Joe and his fraternal twin, Matt, grew up in the Boston suburbs and went to the prestigious Buckingham Browne Nichols school. Though their father tried to annul his marriage to their mother in order to have his second marriage recognized by the church the fallout of which effectively ended the father’s political career Joe III had an otherwise straight and narrow upbringing. He went to Stanford, where he co captained the lacrosse team, then to the Peace Corps and then to Harvard Law School. After graduation, he became an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County, in eastern Massachusetts. In mid January, he resigned from the district attorney’s office. A few days later he announced his engagement to his longtime girlfriend, Lauren Anne Birchfield, whom he met at Harvard (they’ve been together for six years “I was on borrowed time,” he told me). A month after that he declared his candidacy. He also adopted a puppy.
“This was not some lifelong goal,” Kennedy told me over iced coffee one of the many that he consumes daily at a Panera Bread. “My family has been around campaigns for a long time,” he added. “It’s something you really have to be sure that you alone want to do. Because if not, if you don’t want to do it, that will just blow through the surface at some point, and people can tell. And when people can tell, it’s all over.”
Kennedy has been criticized for avoiding the media, and my initial request for an interview was declined. But it became awkward to avoid me when I was occasionally the only reporter on the trail. My interview request was eventually granted by Emily Browne, the communications director, who rides everywhere with Kennedy in the campaign’s champagne colored Chevy. Brown, who is 26 and proudly bears an ankle tattoo, is one of the oldest members of the Kennedy entourage. Anne Geraghty, her assistant, is 23. Rich Thuma, whose job seemed to be to deflect any and all questions to Emily and Anne, is 24. The “advance man” is a college student, Will Schnoor, 21, who described his job as holding Kennedy’s water bottle and umbrella. Greg Henning, Kennedy’s senior adviser, is 32 and was a year ahead of him at Buckingham Browne Nichols. The cumulative effect actually makes Kennedy appear quite senior by comparison, but the group occasionally looked less like a Congressional campaign staff than a group of college students en route to a model congress.
Coincidentally, my stepbrother attended Buckingham Browne Nichols with Henning and Kennedy. I e mailed a number of alumni to see if they thought Kennedy’s entrance into politics seemed like a lifelong goal. The majority of them assumed he would, but they also remembered him as a really nice guy. One former classmate even recalled a somewhat heroic moment during his adolescence a drizzly evening, in which Kennedy, after a school dance,
single handedly endeavored to find another party. Not exactly a profile in courage, but it still left an impression. “It was something out of a movie,” the old classmate wrote. “The solitary figure . . . off on his own, solving someone’s problem. I remember looking at whoever was next to me and saying something to the effect of, ‘That guy is a born politician.’ ”
In mid August, I watched Kennedy debate his Democratic challengers at Stonehill College in Easton. Kennedy arrived to banner carrying, sign waving supporters. Beside him was Birchfield, a tall, elegant blonde. She wore a simple, sleeveless black knee length dress with brown patent leather pumps. Kennedy, his blazing hair freshly cut, wore a gray suit and red tie and shook supporters’ hands as Birchfield beamed at the crowd and waved at acquaintances.
Kennedy has come under scrutiny for being less than clear about his positions, but they are uncontroversially liberal, at least for a Massachusetts Democrat. He supports gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, the new health care law and the search for renewable energy. When discussing policies, though, Kennedy has a tendency to speak not only softly but quickly. Even though the Stonehill auditorium was only three quarters full (and mostly with Kennedy supporters), the candidate’s quiet and quick answers prompted the moderator to remind everyone to speak up. Kennedy answered most questions with polished political vagueness, but one appeared to catch him off guard. “What’s been the strangest part of the campaign trail so far?” the moderator asked. After a few “ums,” Kennedy went quiet and then said he would have to think for a second. Lurchingly, he said it was probably the “stages of garb” he occasionally encountered while canvassing door to door on weekend mornings. The audience laughed. He told me later: “You’re ready for the tax question, you’re ready for anything from foreign policy to the local issues, but not that basic ‘what’s your favorite movie.’ I hadn’t thought about that for a while.”
Afterward the candidates left the stage, and Kennedy declined to speak to the press. I talked with Sean Bielat, a Republican candidate, who was at the time preparing for his party’s debate moments later. Bielat, a 37 year old father of two, ran unsuccessfully against Frank in 2010, and his frustration at facing another Democratic icon of sorts was palpable. “Running against a Kennedy,” he told me, “means running against this amorphous thing that the media likes to write about in fairly fawning terms.” (Objection noted.) “But this guy hasn’t earned any of it.” Bielat, in a suit, sat on a table, swinging his legs. “The fact that you’re here covering this,” he said, “and the fact that somebody said this was a good story this kid has never done anything [before] running for Congress. And if you look at him, he’s not ready for prime time. He doesn’t look like he’s having fun.”
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One terrifically humid August morning, Kennedy was at an intersection outside a strip mall in Fall River, running from car to car, greeting drivers and handing out bumper stickers. As he leaned through car windows, sweat glistened on his face and soaked through the back of his blue button down shirt. With each change of the light, he was off to a new corner. “I need another bumper sticker!” a driver with a strong Boston accent yelled after an intern had put one on her bumper. Kennedy ran to hand her a second sticker.
Behind him, a gathering of Kennedys had arrived to show their support. “Vote for Joe!” his stepmother, Beth Kelly, yelled from the sidewalk, jumping up and down and waving her hands in the air at passing cars. She wore a periwinkle cardigan and gold conch shaped earrings. “We came up from the Cape this morning,” she told me. Kennedy’s father stood next to her, in khaki trousers and a navy polo. “Joe! Come on! Joe!” he said in a booming voice, distinctly more confident than his son’s. Ethel Kennedy, Robert Kennedy’s 84 year old widow and the family’s matriarch, was also there, looking radiant and proud, in freshwater pearl earrings and a white anorak. She stood, at first a little shakily, near Joe’s twin, Matt, and his new wife, Kate. They had brought the new puppy, which had “Joe Kennedy for Congress” stickers on its collar.
“No, not on my car,” a woman said to the candidate when he leaned in, introduced himself, and asked if she wanted a bumper sticker. She accepted one through the window and drove off.
After another half hour of standing around while being Kennedys, it was time for the candidate to head to the next campaign event in the neighboring town of Attleboro. His father and brother accompanied him to the next stop. But after that, it was again just Kennedy and his staff at a backyard house party in the mostly middle class town of Rehoboth. booth while children played in a bouncy castle and Paul Jacques, a Kennedy supporter who was celebrating his retirement from the National Guard, cooked a pig on a spit. Jacques’s father, in a T shirt and baseball cap, carved it up on a wooden board while guests grabbed shreds doused in spicy vinegar. It was Jacques’s party, but the first few minutes were devoted to Kennedy’s speaking with potential voters many of whom were stocky guys with Red Sox hats and fading tattoos who might not be impressed by his upbringing.
Kennedy, still wearing his blue button down shirt, stood with several of them around a keg, talking and laughing maybe a little too quickly at times and sipping from a Poland Spring bottle. (He says he can remember every beer he has had in his life: “I had one on my 21st birthday, and then I had one when I graduated college.”) Jacques’s father eventually made a moving speech, in which he acknowledged, jokingly, that although he was proud of his son, he had come to accept that they didn’t share the same politics. Kennedy, leaning against a wall behind them, laughed and made an exaggerated shrug. After the party, he was off again. He introduced a video tribute in honor of his great uncle, Edward M. Kennedy. “This is the first convention since 1956 without Senator Kennedy, but make no mistake, he is here with us this evening,” he told the crowd at the Time Warner Cable Arena. The moment reminded me of a conversation we had weeks earlier at Panera Bread. I asked Kennedy if he ever wished he could run for office from scratch, without the blessing of his family’s name or the connections. “The short answer is no,” he said, sipping another iced coffee. “I am the one who’s running the race. It is me. It’s not my father, my grandfather, my great uncle or what people perceived them to be,” he said,
tapping the table for emphasis. “It’s me.”