Memo to Joe Kennedy: It’s still the people’s seat, not the Kennedy seat

Illustrtation by Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe; Globe file photo

As a Republican senatorial candidate famously said, it’s not the Kennedy’s seat.

It’s the people’s seat.

So if Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III really wants a seat in the US Senate, he should take his case directly to the people. That’s what candidates with other last names do when they decide to challenge incumbents in their own party.

Instead, anonymous sources are putting out word that Kennedy is “eyeing” and “weighing” a primary run against Senator Edward J. Markey. If that’s Kennedy code for “get out of my way,” it’s the wrong message. Instead of trying to clear the easiest path to victory, Kennedy should be ready to fight for what he wants, like Shannon Liss Riordan and Steve Pemberton , the two challengers who have already announced runs against Markey.


Whatever you think of Markey — whether, at 73, he’s too old or has been in Washington too long — this ploy to get him to drop his reelection bid also showcases two familiar Kennedy family traits: ambition propelled by arrogance. Detecting those qualities in Robert F. Kennedy’s grandson shouldn’t be surprising. But it is a little disconcerting, since Joe Kennedy comes across as relatively humble. When first elected, he downplayed the family name, and said voters would “get me” — not his grandfather, or his great-uncles, Jack or Ted Kennedy, and not his father, the former congressman.

For now, Markey isn’t giving up, and why should he? Kennedy can run against Markey, just like Seth Moulton ran against John Tierney and Ayanna Pressley ran against Michael Capuano. Those campaigns ended in victory for both challengers and new blood in Congress for Massachusetts. They didn’t tear the party apart. They energized it and, especially in Pressley’s case, brought new voters to the election fray.


But of course, running for an open seat is less messy and less work.

Since last fall, there was talk that Kennedy supporters were quietly suggesting to Markey he should reach the conclusion that the four-plus decades he has already spent in Washington are more than enough. Back then, there was also speculation that Moulton was audacious enough to challenge Markey. To ward off the vultures, Markey put out early word he would seek reelection in 2020. He collected some key endorsements, including that of Senator Elizabeth Warren, who put out a video backing his effort. He also tried to put age and the contempt that comes with familiarity behind him by partnering with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Green New Deal.

Moulton’s profile faded with his failed bid to derail Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House. He’s supposedly running for president but has yet to crack zero in the polls. Kennedy, meanwhile, comes across as smart; but he has struggled to come up with enough sizzle to match the expectations of his famous name. When he first went to Washington, he made a point of trying to find common ground with Republicans, by working out with them and going so far as to say that Tea Party Republicans are “people, too.” He has moved from that to calling for President Trump’s impeachment.

But he’s no rebel. He’s close to Pelosi, and does fund-raising events with her. Any torch-passing from Markey to Kennedy would be mostly about age, not political mindset. And if Kennedy drums Markey out of the Senate race before getting in himself, it would be a testament to the merits of pure old-fashioned political muscle.


“Strategies like ‘clearing the field’ are old-school, insider tactics that cut against the current, refreshing trend of clean, hard-fought grass-roots competition” in Democratic primaries, said John Walsh, the former head of the state Democratic party and a Markey supporter. He urges Kennedy to “run for reelection as you’ve declared or challenge for the Senate seat.”

Good advice. If you want to go for it, Joe, go for it.

Let the people decide who deserves that seat.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.