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Joseph Kennedy highlights Citizens Energy work as son weighs congressional bid

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Joseph P. Kennedy III working last year while an assistant district attorney on Cape Cod.

Winter begins tomorrow, and with it an increased need for home heating oil assistance.

And with that seasonal demand also comes the annual advertising campaign for Citizens Energy Inc., the Boston-based nonprofit that has helped deliver millions of gallons of discounted oil to the poor and elderly not just in Massachusetts but over a dozen other states since 1979.

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It was founded by Joseph P. Kennedy II, who went on to serve in Congress from 1987 to 1999.

Kennedy subsequently returned to Citizens, and each year about this time he starts popping up in TV and radio ads, and with his name emblazoned on billboards, as his nonprofit begins to promote its good works.

His light blue parka is a hallmark of the campaign.

This year’s campaign, though, has an especially pointed political message. And it happens as one of his twin sons, Joseph P. Kennedy III, is actively weighing his own run for the US House of Representatives.

“People can’t afford to stay warm, while America’s heart is hardened,” the elder Kennedy says in a spot now running on WBZ-AM. “We can afford tax breaks for billionaires, but federal fuel aid got cut by 60 percent. To whom much is given, little is expected; to whom little is given, much is taken away.”

Twice in the spot Kennedy mentions his name - the same one he shares with his son, presently working as an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County.

A Kennedy aide denied any political subterfuge, noting the former congressman advertises every year.

But Kennedy’s past campaigns have highlighted the plight of the poor, or, as it does this year, defended his decision to accept oil from Venezuela and its socialist President Hugo Chavez.

This year’s campaign highlights the political divide that has underpinned the Occupy Wall Street movement, is likely to propel next year’s US Senate campaign in Massachusetts, and is already shaping up as the dominant domestic theme for the 2012 presidential election.

“Believe me: help is needed,” Kennedy says as veers from touting his program to making his political statement.

Joseph P. Kennedy III was mentioned as a potential congressional candidate last year, when William Delahunt announced his retirement from Congress while the younger Kennedy was working as an assistant district attorney on Cape Cod.

The 31-year-old had laid the seed a couple months earlier, when he began delivering speeches amid the special election campaign to replace his great uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy

This year, Kennedy moved to Middlesex County, prompting fresh questions about whether he was positioning himself for a congressional run in the Eighth Congressional District, the Cambridge-based seat his father assumed from former House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. and was assumed from him by Representative Michael Capuano of Somerville.

Kennedy has been living with his mother, Sheila Rauch, in Cambridge while also spending time at his father’s home in Brighton.

Recently, he delivered a speech to the Medford Community Housing Inc., the kind of civic appearance that is the lifeblood of a politician.

A person familiar with Kennedy’s thinking says the district attorney is now weighing a campaign for the House seat being vacated by Representative Barney Frank of Newton.

The person said Kennedy is intrigued by the possibility of extending his public service in a new direction but also concerned about the timing, given the surprise behind Frank’s announcement late last month and the prosecutor’s enjoyment of his current job.

The person said Kennedy planned a decision relatively soon, out of respect for the other potential candidates for Frank’s seat.

As he weighs a decision, though, a potential bloc of voters in Massachusetts is being reminded of his family’s long history of helping the disadvantaged.

“This is Joe Kennedy,” his father says in his radio ad. “If you need help staying warm this winter, give me a call at 1-877-JOE-4-OIL. Because no one should be left out in the cold.”

Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.
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