A Kennedy outside Camelot: Joe Kennedy runs as an independent in Massachusetts

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Joe Kennedy, an independent Massachusetts candidate for Senate, gets double exposure every time his name is mentioned in the media.

With every first mention of the Kennedy name, a clause usually follows telling readers that he has no relation to the other Kennedy clan – you know, the one that has produced a president, congressmen, an attorney general and even the senator whose seat Joe Kennedy aims to fill.

“In a subtle way it’s more airtime,” Dave Galusi, a friend of the candidate who is heading up communications duties for the campaign, half-jokingly said.

But Joe Kennedy, a libertarian who is running as an independent for the seat, not only has the most valuable last name anyone can have in Massachusetts politics, he shares his full name with other prominent Kennedys:

There’s Joe Kennedy, the patriarch of the family and the father of JFK. There’s Joe Kennedy, the eldest brother of JFK who was killed during World War II and there’s Joe Kennedy, the son of Robert Kennedy.

Then there’s this Joe Kennedy, who was born to a young Puerto Rican mother and a Portuguese father in Boston and later took the last name of his foster parents. He says the Kennedy name is not something he particularly enjoys as a candidate.

“It’s awful,” he said with a laugh, putting his phone on speaker mode so he could put his tie on before Monday night’s debate in Boston.

Yet, the other candidates in the race – Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown – aren’t necessarily laughing. Democrats accuse him of taking advantage of his name to try to steal votes from people who don’t realize he’s not related to Jack, Bobby and Teddy. Republicans say the self-described tea party candidate is only going to siphon off conservative votes.

Joe Kennedy, though, said based on email traffic, he’s actually pulling in Democrat votes 2 to 1.

A Democratic Party official in Washington dismissed the notion Joe Kennedy will take away Democrat votes.

“People who are loyal Kennedy Democrats are going to know that Martha Coakley is going to fight for the same things as Teddy Kennedy did,” the official said. “They’re going to know who she is, and that the Kennedy family is supporting her.”

Representatives for Brown did not respond to requests for comment. Joe Kennedy says he’s the only candidate for smaller government.

“I can’t distinguish between the two,” Kennedy said. “They try to distinguish between each other – but they’re for bigger government, more wars and I’m not.”

Galusi said the campaign gathered over 13,000 verified signatures to get ballot access.

The campaign worker said his response is automatic to correcting those who think his candidate is a member of the Kennedy family. After months of campaigning, though, not nearly as many people ask anymore, though he said an older man just the other day told him he was voting for Joe Kennedy because of what the Kennedys have done for Massachusetts. Galusi said he politely informed the voter of the truth.

Joe Kennedy maintains he’s in the campaign “for the right reasons.” Before kicking off his campaign, he said he made a courtesy call to the other Kennedys to tell them he’s not “doing this to be offensive in any way shape or form,” though they didn’t respond.

“I’m running to win,” he said. “I wouldn’t do this to put my privacy on the line, put my job on the line.”

Jon Ward contributed to this story