Branford – Ted Kennedy Jr. made his debut as a candidate for public office Tuesday, blessed and burdened by a name that makes instant allies and passionate enemies of perfect strangers. His father, uncles and brother began earlier, sights set on Congress or beyond. Kennedy, 52, is running for the part-time Connecticut General Assembly.
“It is with great pride tonight that I declare my candidacy for the Connecticut state Senate,” Kennedy said, standing on stage in the auditorium of the James Blackstone Memorial Library in the center of Branford, where he’s lived for two decades with his wife, Kiki. An audience of more than 100 rose and offered sustained applause.
Gina MacDonald-Paige, a friend from the town’s Stony Creek neighborhood, stood and waved a sign. It said, “Finally!!!”
His brother, Patrick, was elected to the Rhode Island legislature at 21 and to Congress at 27. His father, who died in 2009 at age 77 after more than four decades in the U.S. Senate, had urged him many times to run for Congress, beginning when he was a 23-year-old living in Massachusetts.
“You know what? It didn’t feel right,” Kennedy told reporters after his announcement. “It didn’t feel right because I really wanted to take the time. Not just to raise my family, but to develop my own expertise, and my own experience, and my own maturity.”
Kennedy is the father of two, a 16-year-old son and a 19-year-old daughter. His wife, Kiki, is a Yale psychiatrist and environmental activist who helped organize opposition to a pipeline and a floating natural gas depot once proposed for Long Island Sound. For Kennedy, the question of running always was a matter of when and for what, not if.
He stepped away earlier this year from the Marwood Group, the health consulting business he co-founded, and became a partner in the Stamford office of Epstein Becker Green, a national law firm with a thriving practice in health care law.
“Most importantly, they seem flexible in allowing me the kind of time I’m going to need to talk with people and the kind of flexible schedule I will hopefully need if elected in November,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy is trying to succeed Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, who is retiring after 10 years in the legislature representing the 12th Senate District, just outside New Haven. It covers the three shoreline towns of Branford, Guilford and Madison, plus North Branford, Killingworth and the eastern half of Durham. Meyer sat on stage behind Kennedy, giving his blessing.
“I can’t tell you how honored and humbled I am,” Kennedy told the crowd. “Welcome to my hometown. There is no other town like it in America.”
Chapters of his life have been shared in books, including one written by his father, who described breaking the news to 12-year-old Ted Jr. that a cancerous tumor would require the amputation of the boy’s leg. His parents’ divorce, his brother’s struggle with mental illness, and his sister’s death from a heart attack all are part of the public record that is the Kennedy family album.
But until he stepped forward in the auditorium of this town’s grand public library, a late 19th century monument to an industrialist, Kennedy had lived life as a husband and father, lawyer and businessman, largely out of the spotlight that illuminated his family’s victories and tragedies.
On this evening, when he smiled and promised to finish in time for the audience to get home and watch the UConn women’s basketball team play for a national championship, Kennedy reminded them he was their neighbor, a member of their local parish, the man they might remember as the coach of their children’s soccer team. He also is a graduate of three Connecticut colleges: He has a bachelor’s from Wesleyan, a master’s from Yale and law degree from the University of Connecticut.
But for the first time in his life, he also is a candidate for public office, a step that drew four television news crews to capture a moment that for other candidates for the General Assembly might pass unnoticed, save for a reporter from a local weekly. Yes, he is their neighbor, but his summer home in Hyannis once belonged to Uncle Jack, the president of the United States.
And he is Ted Kennedy’s son.
“My name is Ted Kennedy Jr., a name I share with my son, a name I shared with my father,” Kennedy said in 2009, delivering a eulogy to his father. “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.”
Kennedy stressed his local roots Tuesday, yet embraced his family heritage.
“Running for public office really feels like a natural continuation of my life’s work and my life’s goals. From an early age I learned from my family every person can and should make a contribution to their community. I believe that public service is an important part of their civic duty,” Kennedy said. “I am proud of my family’s legacy of standing up for working families, for social justice and for political and economic fairness.”
His audience applauded once more.
He talked about his personal biography, including work for the disabled and a long interest in health issues. His edging toward public office was the subject of an embarrassing piece in the New York Times Magazine last year. It was initiated by Kennedy or some of the Washington handlers who sat in on interviews. None were visible Tuesday.
His campaign is being run by John Murphy, a former organizer with the Connecticut Citizen Action Group. He is a union activist and Red Sox fan who helped Meyer unseat a Republican incumbent 10 years ago. Murphy, who also helped run Ned Lamont’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2006, is telling people this will be won as a local campaign. A network request for a pre-announcement interview was rejected.
Kennedy said he will participate in the state’s voluntary public financing program, which requires him to raise $15,000 in qualifying contributions of no more than $100 each. It commits him to a budget of less than $115,000, negating the advantages his family’s wealth could bring.
“He got a lot of advice not to,” Murphy said. “He said, ‘I believe in this. My father stood for this. Why should I run away when I had the chance?’ ”
Kennedy and his wife stayed long after the formal announcement, greeting everyone who waited for a handshake or a few words. The night was a long time coming.