opinion | Joan Vennochi

Joe Kennedy III sails on amid storm of family troubles

So far, Joe Kennedy III is reaping all the benefits of his famous name — and none of the baggage.

The 32-year-old grandson of Robert F. Kennedy is heavily favored to replace longtime Democratic Representative Barney Frank. The Camelot connection boosted the first-time candidate from the start, and money quickly followed.

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff
Joseph P. Kennedy III

Anywhere but Massachusetts, this might be the worst of times for a Kennedy to run for political office. There are ongoing family feuds. Different branches are brawling over who controls the narrative of the Kennedy legacy. His grandmother is leading the fight to keep his grandfather’s papers from the public. A family member’s tragic suicide led to an ugly scene over her final resting place.


But the SS JKIII chugs serenely on, untroubled by family storms.

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From January to March, Joe Kennedy hauled in more than $1.3 million, and with fundraising help from relatives, money continues to pour into his campaign. Later this month, Ethel Kennedy is scheduled to hold a fundraiser for her grandson in Hyannis Port. According to the New York Post, the invitation promises cocktails “at Ethel’s house, followed by dinner at the former home of President John F. Kennedy.”

Joe Kennedy is the one cause all branches of the family seem eager to unite behind. Caroline Kennedy threw a fundraiser for him in March. Jean Kennedy Smith hosted an April event at the New York Yacht Club. Kennedy also raised money in Los Angeles at Bob Shriver’s house, at an event co-hosted by Maria Shriver and Vicki Kennedy.

The earnest redhead has been able to benefit from family largesse, while keeping his distance from negative family headlines.

Led by Ethel Kennedy, RFK’s relatives have limited access to the private papers of the former attorney general. (Asked to weigh in, Joe Kennedy said in a statement, “I would expect that anything deemed too personal in nature, or that the government deemed too sensitive, would not be disclosed. Otherwise, I support full disclosure.”)


Even the Kennedy compound, a sentimental gathering place for the clan, is turning into a battlefield. The sons of the late Senator Ted Kennedy — Ted Jr. and Patrick — are feuding with their father’s wife, Vicki, over the creation of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. Plans for the institute call for using the main compound house as a study and seminar center for scholars and researchers.

That plan — executed according to the wishes of Ted and his mother, Rose — is causing hard feelings with other family members. For reasons connected to the institute’s nonprofit status, Kennedy relatives must work out rental agreements to use the lawn, pool, and tennis courts. Because of its nonprofit status, the institute also kept singer Taylor Swift from staying at the main house. The star has been romantically linked to assorted Kennedy offspring — and that’s the good family news.

The worst news includes the suicide of Mary Richardson Kennedy, the estranged wife of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is uncle to Joe Kennedy III. This sad story quickly turned creepy, as Bobby Kennedy Jr. first fought for the right to bury Mary Kennedy in a cemetery near the family compound — and then had the body exhumed and moved to another section of the graveyard.

Kerry Kennedy, who is aunt to Joe Kennedy III, was arrested in New York in July and charged with driving while impaired. She said her doctors believed she had a seizure; but according to one court document, the sleep drug Ambien was found in her system.

Asked about the headlines related to the Kennedys but unrelated to Joe Kennedy’s campaign, adviser Doug Rubin said, “His focus has been on the district and meeting with people.” Only in Massachusetts could that suffice as a serious answer.


The district Joe Kennedy seeks to represent seems content to weigh his candidacy on its merits. For now, voters are not inclined to hold his relatives’ sins against him. That’s not surprising, given the Kennedy sins Massachusetts voters overlooked in the past.

Joe Kennedy is not responsible for his relatives’ actions; he just shares their name. At times, that name connects him to controversy and notoriety. But it also connects him to magic, the kind that opens doors to money and media coverage. For Joe Kennedy, the Kennedy magic outweighs the Kennedy madness.

Joan Vennochi can
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