BOSTON — Former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, the eldest son of Robert F. Kennedy, announced Monday that he would not run for the Senate seat held for nearly 50 years by his late uncle, Edward M. Kennedy. The decision was certain to widen the race for the Democratic nomination.
In a statement, the former six-term congressman said he cared about those seeking decent housing, fair wages and healthcare. But, he added, "the best way for me to contribute to those causes is by continuing my work at Citizens Energy Corp."
He is president of the nonprofit organization, which provides free heating oil to the poor.
"My father called politics an honorable profession, and I have profound respect for those who choose to advance the causes of social and economic justice in elective office," the 56-year-old Kennedy said. Friends said that his sons Matthew and Joseph III had been among those urging him to consider a candidacy.
The decision surrenders a seat the Kennedy family has held for all but two years since 1953, when John F. Kennedy moved from the House to the Senate before being elected president in 1960. It became vacant Aug. 25 when Edward Kennedy died of brain cancer at age 77. He was first elected to the Senate in 1962.
It also removes an excuse for three veteran Massachusetts Democrats -- Reps. Michael E. Capuano, Edward J. Markey and John F. Tierney -- who have said they were considering campaigns but would not run against a member of the Kennedy family.
In a fiery speech Monday morning to a Boston labor breakfast, Capuano sought to distinguish himself from unnamed competitors.
"Everybody loves you today," the congressman told an audience of about 400, including Tierney and Markey. "Everybody's for prevailing wage, everybody's for . . . this, that and the other thing. Me too. That's good. But when it comes time to make the tough decisions, that's when you start to figure who's with you and who's not."
Markey said before addressing the audience that he was still weighing a race, highlighting his stature as a 33-year member of the House, honorary title as dean of the New England delegation and chairmanship of the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming.
After Kennedy announced his decision, Markey issued a statement saying: "I now must weigh where I can make the greatest impact on the issues facing the people of Massachusetts."
Last week, Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley became the first high-profile Democrat to declare her candidacy. Republican state Sen. Scott Brown has said he was formally "testing the waters" under federal election law. That provision allows him to raise and spend up to $5,000 assessing a campaign. He expects to announce a decision this week.