Ted Kennedy Jr. raises profile, but demurs on plans to run

Waiting for a Blumenthal-for-Senate rally to begin the other night, Ted Kennedy Jr. found himself cornered, first by one reporter, then two, three and four. And then a photographer.

A question about his political intentions provoked mock exasperation.

“I’m here to support Dick Blumenthal,” Kennedy said.

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Sharing a laugh: Richard Blumenthal and Ted Kennedy Jr. (Mark Pazniokas)

After 25 years in Connecticut – he is a graduate of Wesleyan, Yale and University of Connecticut School of Law – Kennedy has raised his profile by recording a TV commercial for Ned Lamont last summer and, now, by backing Blumenthal for U.S. Senate.

He publicly objected to Republican Linda McMahon’s use of a speech by his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, to promote her position on tax cuts, generating a brief flurry of news stories. And on this night, at union rally in New Haven, Kennedy was about to deliver a testimonial for Blumenthal.

He deflected all questions about whether he might one day seek office in Washington, following his father, two uncles, a brother and a cousin.

“Who knows what the future may bring, but I don’t have any immediate plans to go into politics – or any mid-term plans,” Kennedy said.

Others have mentioned him as a candidate for office, possibly for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman’s seat in 2012. Or his father’s old seat in Massachusetts, won by Republican Scott Brown in a special election. He has given no public encouragement.

“I think politics is fun. It’s really important,” he said.

But that’s as far as he will go, at least for now.

Kennedy, 49, who lives in coastal Branford with his wife, Kiki Kennedy, and their two children, has found Connecticut an easy place to live out of the public eye. It’s close to Massachusetts, but he can move unnoticed here. It’s a definite attraction.

“I like my life here, because I think it’s a great place to raise my family,” Kennedy said. “I don’t want, you know, to infect them and their lives with the political craziness that comes with being a member of my family.”

A statewide campaign would bring plenty of craziness. Much of the speculation began last year, as he delivered an eloquent, televised eulogy to his father.

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From left, Kiki Kennedy, Richard Blumenthal, Bob Proto, Ted Kennedy Jr. (Mark Pazniokas)

“My name is Ted Kennedy Jr., a name I share with my son, a name I share with my father,” was how Kennedy began that eulogy. “Although it hasn’t been easy at times to live with this name, I’ve never been more proud of it than I am today.”

The other night, Kennedy said before the rally he has worked for other candidates in Connecticut, albeit in a lower profile role. He said they typically were people with whom he has a personal connection. He agreed to make a commercial for Lamont, whom he called a longstanding friend.

In 2006, when Lamont opposed Lieberman, his father campaigned with Lamont in Bridgeport and Hartford, tutoring him in the art of politics on the ride from Bridgeport to Hartford.

Kennedy noted he was invited to the Blumenthal rally by Bob Proto, the president of Local 35 of Unite Here, a politically active union that represents service workers at Yale. They embraced before the rally.

His wife is a psychiatrist, Yale faculty member and environmental activist who played a prominent role objecting to a natural gas pipeline that was to run across the bottom of Long Island Sound. Until recently, she may have had a higher profile than him in Connecticut political circles.

He played a small joke on her at the rally, unexpectedly calling her to the microphone to introduce Blumenthal. He laughed when she made a face. Then he watched attentively as she riffed easily about working with Blumenthal to stop the gas pipeline.

“Ted Kennedy is a great friend and a wonderful public servant, as is Kiki,” Blumenthal later told the union crowd. “And I kind of feel that the spirit of his dad is with us tonight.”

“Yes,” a woman murmured.

Kennedy and his wife stood behind Blumenthal, holding hands.