Political Intelligence

Joseph P. Kennedy III seeks to forge own destiny

“Every single person, regardless of where you come from, what family you’re born into, should be able to count on the fact that they get that real shot,” said Joseph P. Kennedy III, US representative-elect.

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff /file

“Every single person, regardless of where you come from, what family you’re born into, should be able to count on the fact that they get that real shot,” said Joseph P. Kennedy III, US representative-elect.

The 113th Congress convenes on Thursday, and the most prominent change for the Massachusetts delegation is that Democrat Elizabeth Warren will replace Republican Scott Brown in the US Senate.

But the other change is no small one, either, as Joseph P. Kennedy III assumes the Fourth Congressional District seat being vacated by Representative Barney Frank.


Frank has never been known as a small personality, meaning Kennedy, 32, has a big reputation to live up to.

But for someone named “Joseph P. Kennedy III,” that’s been a lifelong challenge, one he has both embraced with pride but also tried to minimize through his own individuality.

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That has meant a deep kinship with his twin brother, and an equal commitment to both his famous father, former representative Joseph P. Kennedy II, and his more private mother, Sheila Rauch Kennedy.

It has meant taking advantage of the best schools to which his family could send him but also giving back by working in the Peace Corps, a legal aid bureau, or as a public prosecutor.

And now, Kennedy is about to enter the family business — elective politics — while reminding everyone once again that he is his own person.


“One of the things that I’ve tried from the beginning was to let people know that if they’re going to vote for me, they were going to get me,” Kennedy said Thursday as he sat in a noisy lobby restaurant of a Boston hotel.

He is not the reincarnation of his grandfather, Robert F. Kennedy. He is not his late great-uncles, President John F. Kennedy or Senator Edward M. Kennedy. And he is not his father.

He is Joe, he says, and he has his own political philosophy and beliefs.

He outlined them for his future mother-in-law the first time they met, when she gamely sent her daughter off on a dental appointment she had scheduled for her and then commandeered her future son-in-law for a 31/2-mile walk. One-on-one, a conservative Republican paired with a liberal Democrat.

By the time the two returned, they had reached an understanding, at least as far as politics went. Love and marriage were still to come.

Kennedy laughs as he tells the story, but it offers insight to his perpetual task: honoring a legacy that has benefitted him in innumerable ways, while also creating his own future.

That starts Thursday, when he will likely insert his official ID in the House voting system and cast his first vote as a member of Congress.

Kennedy says his personal political mission statement centers on the belief that everyone should have a shot to reach their full potential — and government should help in the endeavor.

“Government has the responsibility to try to create the framework which allows people that opportunity,” he says. “Every single person, regardless of where you come from, what family you’re born into, should be able to count on the fact that they get that real shot.”

He sought an assignment on the House Education Committee, believing that quality education is the launching pad for any flight of achievement. But no freshman was awarded a seat.

He did get a requested assignment on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, thinking it dovetails with his work overseas and background as a fluent Spanish-speaker.

“In an increasingly globalized and complex and interconnected marketplace, these events are going to have an even greater impact on our lives back home,” says Kennedy.

He visibly chafes at any suggestion he is a tax-and-spend liberal. Government programs, like those he has overseen in the nonprofit world, will have to pass financial muster.

“Budgets are always going to be tight,” he says.

So, come Thursday, a Kennedy returns to Congress.

He will sit in the same House chamber where a great-uncle started before becoming president. He will be across the Capitol from the Senate, where the names of both a grandfather and two great-uncles are inscribed on the mahogany desks. And barely into this third decade, he will attain the same title as his own father.

But that is not how the new congressman will see it.

“It’s as new to me as for every other member,” Kennedy says. “It’s the start of my career, and I look at it much more that way than, certainly, anything else.”

Glen Johnson is lead blogger for Political Intelligence, available at www.boston.com/politics. He can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.
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