The primary matchup between Senator Edward J. Markey and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III is still hypothetical, but it’s already getting messy.
An apparent social media blunder by Markey’s top campaign hand has angered Kennedy, his team, and supporters — just as the 38-year-old Newton Democrat is weighing a challenge to the 73-year-old Markey.
The controversy started late Monday night when a senior adviser to Markey’s campaign retweeted a nasty post: “@EdMarkey, co-author of the green new deal, is a great Senator. @joekennedy should focus on his family’s considerable mental health issues.”
Drama on Twitter ensued: A Kennedy supporter called out the top campaign aide, Paul Tencher, for his retweet, and said Markey should apologize, tagging numerous reporters. Tencher quickly apologized: “I absolutely take it back. It was a mistake and I never would have said something like this. My apologies. That tweet was despicable and abhorrent.”
But Tencher’s retweet did not go unnoticed by Team Kennedy — including Kennedy himself, who “is livid about it,” a person close to Kennedy said.
Just weeks ago, Kennedy lost his cousin, Saoirse Kennedy Hill, 22, to an apparent drug overdose; she had written eloquently about her yearslong struggle with mental illness. Advocating for better mental health care access is one of Kennedy’s signature issues in Congress. Earlier this year, he introduced legislation with Senator Elizabeth Warren aimed at cracking down on insurance companies improperly blocking patients from seeking coverage for mental health services.
Tencher reached out to Kennedy’s staff with an apology, according to a Kennedy aide.
Markey called and spoke with Kennedy Tuesday afternoon, expressing his deep regret and how offended he was by Tencher’s actions, a Markey aide said.
“To show such insensitivity for those experiencing mental health issues is extremely offensive to me,” Markey said in a statement provided to the Globe. “This action by a member of my campaign is unacceptable. It in no way reflects my commitment to the issue of mental heath treatment and the eradication of stigma that so many families suffer. I deeply apologize to Congressman Kennedy and his entire family.”
News broke over the weekend that Kennedy is seriously considering a primary challenge to Markey, a move that is already roiling Massachusetts politics and — if it comes to pass — would spark one of the most closely watched primary races in the country.