Joseph Kennedy III may be exploring, but candidacy seems assured

Joseph P. Kennedy III announced this morning that he is forming a congressional exploratory committee, but he had a much simpler message for any potential rivals: stay away.

The rhetoric of his announcement, coupled with his decision to resign his job as a county prosecutor, showed that this will not be some half-hearted examination for the son of a congressman but the beginning of a methodical campaign to win the seat currently held by US Representative Barney Frank.

“The lack of common sense and fairness in Washington is a byproduct of the partisan gridlock that has turned obstruction into victory. Americans are better than that,” Kennedy said in his statement. “Each and every day, we work with people of different backgrounds and political views to achieve a common purpose. Washington can and should do the same.”


He added: “My decision to look seriously at elected office is grounded in a deep commitment to public service and my experience – both my own and that of my family - in finding just, practical, and bipartisan solutions to difficult challenges. It is a commitment instilled in me at a young age and one that inspired me to join the Peace Corps after college and to become a prosecutor after law school.”

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The 31-year-old is the son of former US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II and Sheila Rauch. He is the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy.

Joe III lacks his father’s fiery demeanor, favoring his mother’s congenial disposition, but he also channels the underdog passion that was a hallmark of his late grandfather.

Beyond his pedigree, he has a AAA education, graduating from Stanford University and Harvard Law School. He has worked most recently as a prosecutor in Middlesex County, the most populous county in New England, after a similar stint on Cape Cod, where his family’s compound is located.

Kennedys typically do not jump into political campaigns without having vetted their prospects, and Joe III’s announcement today hinted how far his candidacy has already progressed.


Beyond its text and timing, it was distributed by Nick Clemons, a veteran political operative.

Joe III told me during a chance airport conversation before Christmas that he loved his current job but was intrigued by the prospect of running for Congress.

“I’m not going to string everybody along. I’m going to make a decision here pretty soon,” he said as he waited for a Delta shuttle to Washington so he could visit his girlfriend.

Immediately after Frank announced his retirement in late November, Bristol District Attorney Sam Sutter said he would consider running for the seat. Former Brookline Selectwoman Deb Goldberg has also been polling her chances.

But the field has largely held back awaiting Kennedy’s decision, which has loomed over them.


Joseph P. Kennedy II maintained the concern about his son last month with a radio ad for his nonprofit, Citizens Energy, that had an unusually political bent to it.

“People can’t afford to stay warm, while America’s heart is hardened,” the elder Kennedy said in the spot. “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.”

That populist sentiment dovetails with the message of expected Democratic US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who will likely join President Obama on this fall’s Democratic ballot.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party figures those ticket-toppers will vastly boost Democratic turnout from January 2010, when Republican Scott Brown surprised them by winning the US Senate seat formerly held by the late Edward M. Kennedy.

Now, with his own statement and career choice, Joseph P. Kennedy III has signaled that he wants to be the Kennedy who will return the family name to the halls of Congress.

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