Patrick Kennedy’s long, troubled history in Rhode Island

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Patrick Kennedy’s relationship to his constituents is like that of a compulsive check-bouncer to his bank – except in Kennedy’s case, the bank keeps cashing the checks.

That’s the verdict of Boston radio show host and longtime Kennedy watcher Jay Severin, as he considered Kennedy’s announcement Friday that he will not seek reelection this year. “Patrick Kennedy has been writing overdraft for a long time,” says Severin.

Kennedy’s self-assessment isn’t too different. “When I made missteps or suffered setbacks, you responded not with contempt, but compassion,” the Rhode Island congressman, son of the late Ted Kennedy, tells constituents in a video to be broadcast on Sunday. “Thank you for all the times you lifted me up, pushed me forward and filled my heart with hope.”

The voters of Rhode Island have indeed been forgiving. First elected to the state’s house of representatives in 1988 at the age of 21, and to the U.S. House six years later, Kennedy made headlines not for his legislative achievements, but instead for a series of embarrassing public incidents, shouting matches with colleagues and trips to rehab for drug and alcohol addictions.

Most recently, Kennedy — whose mediocre charisma gained him the name “the Wizard of Uhs” — engaged in a high-profile verbal brawl with Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin, not a small thing for a man representing the most Catholic state in the nation. While criticizing Catholic bishops for their opposition to supporting the health-care bill without abortion restrictions, it emerged that Tobin demanded that Kennedy cease taking communion. Kennedy defended himself, saying, “The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.”

But Tobin, who said his conversation with Kennedy over communion was supposed to be private, wrote that “your position is unacceptable to the church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your communion with the church.”

For those who haven’t followed the career of the last member of the Kennedy family to hold public office, here’s a partial listing of greatest hits:

William Kennedy Smith rape trial, 1991.

A member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, Kennedy was in Palm Beach, Fla., with his father and cousin William Kennedy Smith when Smith was accused of raping a woman. Smith was acquitted, but prosecutors accused Kennedy of attempting to cover up the incident.

Legendary shouting match on House floor over guns, 1996

Kennedy, visibly outraged on the House floor, invoked the tragedies of his family during the debate over repealing the assault weapons ban, getting into a verbal match with Republican Rep. Gerald Solomon.

“Shame on you!” Kennedy said while shaking his finger at Republicans. “Families like mine know all too well what the damage of weapons can do!”

Solomon, who even challenged Kennedy to “step outside,” responded that his wife “has a right to defend herself when I’m not there, son, and don’t you ever forget it! Don’t you ever forget it!”

Shoving an airport employee, 2000

An airport security guard claimed Kennedy shoved her after she told him one of his carry-on bags was too big. A soundless video shows Kennedy grabbing the guard’s shoulder and quickly shoving her. After a closed hearing, officials ultimately decided against bringing charges against Kennedy.

Boat related troubles on Martha’s Vineyard, 2000

While on a yacht off Martha’s Vineyard, Kennedy and his then-girlfriend wound up in an argument so intense the Coast Guard reportedly sent a rescue boat to take the woman back to shore. Later that year, Kennedy was accused of trashing another yacht, this one rented, causing $28,000 in damage.

Capitol Hill drug-induced crash and subsequent rehab, 2006

Having already spent time in rehab for alcohol and drug abuse in his youth, Kennedy, high on Ambien and Phenergan, crashed his convertible in the middle of the night into a Capitol Hill barricade. About a month earlier, he had been involved in a minor automobile accident pulling into a pharmacy parking lot in Rhode Island. A witness of that crash said Kennedy was “swaying, and his eyes were glazed.”

He was not arrested in either incident and in the Capitol Hill crash authorities took him home. He later pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of prescription drugs.

“I know that I need help,” Kennedy, who had checked into the Mayo Clinic for treatment the year before, said then. “I struggle every day with this disease, as do millions of Americans.” He subsequently admitted himself into rehab again.

In 2009, he returned to rehab again saying he “decided to temporarily step away from my normal routine to ensure that I am being as vigilant as possible in my recovery.”