BOSTON — Ending his campaign before it fully began, Matthew Maxwell Taylor Kennedy--the son of Robert F. Kennedy--on Monday announced he would not seek the congressional seat of the late Rep. John Joseph Moakley (D-Mass.).
Although he had not formally declared his candidacy or filed federal election papers, the 36-year-old lawyer and philanthropist had made clear his interest in the rare Massachusetts congressional vacancy. Moakley died in May after 15 terms in Washington.
"Down the road, there may be a more appropriate opportunity to seek public office," Kennedy said in a news release that cited family obligations as his reason for not running.
He recently purchased a house in the center of the 9th Congressional District, a heavily Democratic area. Kennedy, known as Max, paid several visits to Moakley after the veteran politician announced he had leukemia and would not seek reelection.
Kennedy's name vaulted to the top of a list of at least half a dozen area Democrats hoping to succeed Moakley.
But while addressing the Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps in his first public speech as a potential candidate, Kennedy stumbled badly. He scratched his head, giggled nervously, lost his place several times and misnamed at least one member of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Late last week, the Boston Herald disclosed that in 1983 Kennedy was charged with assaulting a campus police officer while enrolled at Harvard University. Also involved in that incident was Kennedy's cousin Michael Skakel, whose trial for the 1975 murder of 15-year-old Martha Moxley is scheduled to begin this fall.
In a state where no Kennedy has ever lost an election, Max Kennedy's poll numbers plummeted. His uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), was said to have urged his nephew to reconsider. Max Kennedy's statement Monday said he wanted to spend more time with his family.
"We know what that means," said Brown University political science professor Darrell West, who has written books about the Kennedy family.
Two years ago, Max Kennedy intimated in a Los Angeles Times magazine article that he intended to run for office from California, where he then was living.
With so many family members in politics, West said, "the Kennedys clearly think that the name is golden--and that merely invoking the name creates the opportunity to run for these types of positions. Of course, the reality today is the Kennedy name cuts both ways."
But the sense of family entitlement to elected office also balances with a concern about maintaining a winning track record, West added.
"The Kennedys know whenever a family member is on the ballot, the whole family goes on the ballot," he said. "A loss in Massachusetts would have been catastrophic for the family."
A family spokesman, Scott Ferson, said Max Kennedy's decision to pull out of the race came suddenly. After assessing the "personal sacrifice" involved and the effect that it would have on his family, Kennedy decided to abandon his congressional hopes at this time, Ferson said.
Kennedy and his wife, Vicki, have three young children.
Acting Gov. Jane Swift is expected to set a date soon for a special election to succeed Moakley.