Prepping A New Kennedy

Morning finds Max Kennedy aboard the towering aircraft carrier named after his Uncle John F. Kennedy, which has rumbled into Boston Harbor. "She's your ship," says the captain, rushing onto the main deck to greet RFK's ninth child, who is visiting with his wife and kids. "Make sure they show you everything." Kennedy tours the decks and poses for pictures with sailors. Then it's off to a meeting with black officials at a soul-food restaurant in Roxbury, where the 35-year-old lawyer is appearing as chairman of his Uncle Ted's re-election campaign. Next it's a talk with Armenian activists and a stop at a meatpackers' picket line. Later, as the sun starts to fade, he's sitting atop the hood of a school bus, rallying union leaders. "For 76 of the last 100 years, a member of my family has been on a Labor Committee in Congress," he tells them. He doesn't have to say he could be next.

This is the way you launch a political career if your last name is Kennedy. Max is supposedly traveling the state on his uncle's behalf, trying to make sure the senator is re-elected. But, in fact, it looks like Ted Kennedy won't even have an opponent this year; he could probably go sail round the world and have won a seventh term by the time he gets back. What Max is really doing is a kind of apprenticeship, practicing his skills and waiting for a race of his own.

It's a tradition in the Kennedy family: RFK, Ted, Joe and Kathleen all won races after managing family campaigns. So far, no Kennedy has ever lost a race in New England. But Camelot is about 40 years past now, and recent scandals have singed the legacy. Max Kennedy knows that he risks becoming a political cliche--just one more Kennedy kid running for office on the strength of his famous teeth and little else. "I think another Kennedy candidacy might be met with some skepticism in the press," he says in mock seriousness. Then he bursts out laughing and throws up his hands. "That would be the first obstacle. Then there'd be about a thousand more. If I ran, it would be scary."

Not that Kennedy has any idea when he'll get the chance to run, or for which job. He says he hasn't even discussed it with his mother. "We have a lot of nonverbal communication in my family," he says. Max once seemed to have little ambition for political life. He prosecuted murders and rapes in Philadelphia, where he made headlines by chasing down a mugger on his first day of work. He lived quietly in Los Angeles and edited a book of his father's quotations. Then Kennedy returned East and found a new passion: the Water-shed Institute at Boston College, a program that trains teachers to monitor the urban environment. And he offered to run his uncle Ted's re-election campaign.

At times it seems the senator's allies back home have been entrusted with Max's political education as surely as the teachers at Andover were charged with teaching him history. At the Roxbury lunch, a legislator tells Max that she needs to talk to the senator about some key issues. "There are two guys following me in here," he says of his aides, "and it's their responsibility, so I'll sit them right next to you." She blinks at him for a moment, and he gets it. "It's my responsibility," he says. "Exactly," she snaps.

It goes without saying that Max looks like a Kennedy. But, he insists, "I'm totally different. I'm myself." Wild in his youth, he just celebrated 15 years of sobriety, and those close to him say he's been more focused since the shattering loss of his brother Michael. "He's a guy who's figured out what it's going to take to be a grown-up," a friend says. Blazingly funny, he calls friends "bro" and is a student of historical oddities and useless factoids. (Guess how much microfilm it would take to hold John Adams's library. Nine miles, apparently.) His life resembles a kind of "pleasant anarchy," says his friend Ted Widmer, a White House aide. "Who else is going to call me in the middle of the night to talk about the Gaspee Rebellion?"

His campaign style is unpredictable. Greeting a table of frail, elderly supporters, Max says, "OK, stand up... no, no, stay there, I'm just kidding." They laugh with him. At a Head Start event, Kennedy startles teachers by taking off his shoe, grabbing his toes and challenging some 50 kids to click their heels together while holding one foot. "Everyone in my family can do it," he explains later. "The real test is if you can do it backward."

It would, of course, take more than amusing body stunts for Max Kennedy to get elected. But maybe not much more. The Kennedys can still get out more loyal voters and raise more money than anyone else in New England. And the almost mystical attachment to the family still resonates. Stopping by the birthplace of John Adams after closing time, Max wanders in and catches the glare of a park ranger. He introduces himself. "Oh, you look like a Kennedy!" she says, her face brightening. "I would have kept it open if I'd known you were coming." Sometimes, just being another Kennedy is more than enough.

Prepping A New Kennedy | News