Skip to comments.Patches Kennedy, a glazed doughnut and bee stings
Posted on 10/04/2004 2:53:54 PM PDT by nycfree
PORTSMOUTH -- The congressman was at a graveyard in the woods with wet shoes and a glazed doughnut when the bees attacked.
It had been U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy's idea to interrupt a newspaper interview last week to show off the 200-year-old historic cemetery next to his home in Portsmouth. Impulsively, he set out in business clothes across the sopping wet grass early in the morning, leading the way through bushes, under branches and over the scattered, jagged pieces of a fallen stone wall, carrying his breakfast doughnut on a napkin.
The yellow jackets apparently went first for Kennedy's pastry, and then for him -- three stings. Ouch. At least he's not allergic.
It wasn't the first time the five-term congressman has been stung by being impulsive.
"He's a spontaneous individual who reacts quickly to situations," said Brown University political science Prof. Darrell M. West, who wrote a biography on Kennedy in 2000. "Sometimes it helps him, sometimes it gets him into trouble."
Such as last year, when in the heat of a speech Kennedy criticized President Bush's tax cuts by telling a group of young Democrats in Washington: "I have never worked a [expletive] day in my life."
The dust-up over Kennedy's language made headlines, but he made his point, too: that most of the tax savings went to rich people who, he argues, don't need the money.
Kennedy's father, U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., prefers to call his son "spontaneous," rather than impulsive, and says that's what Congress needs.
"Sometimes in our caucus you have very bright people that are very, very smart and they have more reasons in the world not to do anything than to try and do something," Sen. Kennedy said last week. "You want to try and maintain a sense of spontaneity -- a judgment based on inner core beliefs."
For his reelection campaign, Patrick Kennedy's message is simple: count the money. He claims credit for steering $162 million from the federal government to Rhode Island over the past four fiscal years -- for hospitals, schools, bridges and other staples of congressional pork projects -- from his seat on the House Appropriations Committee.
He was the only member of the Rhode Island delegation to vote to authorize President Bush to send troops to Iraq, basing his vote, he wrote at the time, on concerns about weapons of mass destruction. With no stockpiles of weapons found, and more than 1,000 Americans killed, Kennedy acknowledged in August that he wished he had voted the other way.
His famous family name carries tremendous influence, but also some liability. Anybody running against him -- anybody -- starts with an anti-Kennedy base of about one-third of the general electorate, Kennedy says.
Any serious Republican opponent also has access to a stream of out-of-state money from conservatives who are eager to donate on the chance they could knock a Kennedy -- a symbol of New England liberalism -- out of the Congress, said University of Rhode Island political scientist Maureen Moakley.
Yet in the past 10 years, Kennedy has had only one close race -- his first, in 1994, the year Republicans took control of the House.
The 1st Congressional District voted to reelect Kennedy two years ago, 60 percent to 37 percent over Republican Dave Rogers, a former Navy SEAL who is again challenging Kennedy.
Kennedy has been derided in past elections as a Massachusetts carpetbagger, but now, at age 37, Kennedy has lived in Rhode Island longer than anywhere else. The offspring of America's most famous Democratic family has blended into Rhode Island politics, to the point where voters on the campaign trail often call him "Patrick," and casually discuss the issues as if meeting a candidate for the town council.
Kennedy of late has avoided what he admitted were "self-destructive" mistakes, such as when he shoved an airport security agent in California in 2000.
"He's been quiet, tended to business, kept his nose to the grindstone," said Moakley. "He knows he's always going to have somebody running against him."
People who have followed Kennedy's career say he seems more comfortable in the job and in politics -- that 10 years ago he never would have offered that tour of the historic cemetery.
"He gets a lot of humor out of [politics]," Edward Kennedy said of his son. "He laughs easily about the people who are characters in this business. We [in the Northeast] have the last of the great political characters. I mean, you got your share down there -- we do in Boston. He gets a great kick out of that."
Doing the interview while holding ice over the bee stings on his head, Patrick Kennedy was one of those characters.
And he laughed at the comedy of it.
PATRICK KENNEDY lives in a gray-shingled house built about two years ago on the Sakonnet River. Inside, the house is modern and Spartan, decorated with a few watercolors and Kennedy family photographs that could have come from the pages of Life magazine.
There's a prominently placed picture of the congressman with cousin John F. Kennedy Jr. "That was just before his accident," Kennedy says, referring to the 1999 plane crash that killed the son of President Kennedy.
Outside, Kennedy's lawn slopes to an apple orchard, and then to woods that screen the house from the river. The woods also hide the small, overgrown graveyard that dates to at least the 1790s.
The house "is just a real escape for me," he says. "I entertain here. It's an easy place for me to do that without feeling self-conscious or on display or anything because there's plenty to do here without having to go anywhere."
He keeps a 31-foot sailboat on the river. Sailing is his favorite thing to do, fishing is second. He'll sail to Horseneck Beach, to Cuttyhunk Island, Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket, and then drop anchor and relax with music -- maybe Stevie Wonder or Hootie & the Blowfish. Kennedy confesses he once ordered the Time-Life hits of the '70s CD while watching late-night TV.
He has been in Rhode Island politics since 1988, when he was a 21-year-old Providence College student running for state representative in the Mount Pleasant section of Providence, a race he won. Kennedy's father and his mother, Joan Bennett Kennedy, campaigned for him. So did his cousin John Kennedy Jr., who in 1988 had just been anointed "the sexiest man alive" by People magazine.
Mental health issues have become Kennedy's "primary passion." He has served as lead sponsor of the Paul D. Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act, which would require insurance companies to cover mental illness as they would any other health problem. This is only fair, he argues, because a chemical imbalance in the brain is a physical problem just like whooping cough or a broken leg, despite the stigma of mental illness. He blames Republican congressional leaders for holding up the bill.
His interest in mental health relates to personal experience, which he publicly disclosed in early 2000 when Tipper Gore -- wife of then-Vice President Al Gore -- visited Rhode Island for a health forum. She had previously acknowledged receiving treatment for depression.
"Tipper Gore's visit was my first public declaration that I had continued to seek treatment and therapy for severe mental illness -- manic depression -- and was taking medication for it," Kennedy said.
But even on the morning of Gore's visit, Kennedy wasn't sure if he would disclose his own medical history. "I had preferred not to make it an official part of the script," he said. "I was thinking to myself -- I only want to do this if I feel comfortable about it.
"Tipper Gore gave me a great opportunity -- politically, as much as anything else -- because the stigma [of mental illness] is still so real that it has a political liability. Having the comfort of having her there as an already self-acknowledged recipient of therapy gave me a good political backdrop."
Kennedy says he "felt really good" after his announcement. For years he had been secretive about therapy -- parking blocks away and sneaking into his therapist's office in fear that somebody would see him. "It was great not to feel that."
He still seeks treatment every week in Washington, he says. "I thank God I have that resource to help make me stronger and stronger."
Kennedy's father says he admired his son for disclosing that he has sought treatment.
"It's very touching, very moving," Sen. Kennedy said. "What happens is that other families that are faced with it say, 'My goodness, look, if Patrick has his challenges and has been honest about that, then I'd be able to deal with my challenges, too.' It was a very gutsy thing."
THE SPECULATION that Kennedy will one day try to join his father in the Senate persists through Kennedy's insistence that he intends to stay in the House.
Kennedy's biographer, West, notes that Kennedy "has had limited opportunity to legislate because he has been in the minority party for the past 10 years. I think what he has done is emphasize constituent service and bringing back to the district." Still, "I think it gets very frustrating being in a permanent minority because you can't do anything with legislation."
Republicans also control the Senate, but the Senate has a more active history of flipping between the parties, West said.
Kennedy says he's comfortable with his career track. He talks about Democratic colleagues who climbed the seniority ladder for 15 or 20 years before the party lost the House in 1994. "They had just started to become eligible for the chairmanships of subcommittees and full committees -- and then they lost the place.
"I think it's going to be the other way around for me -- that I'm going to work my way up the seniority track and then when the time comes for me to really run the place because of seniority, the place will come back.
"Obviously, there's too much left to chance in this business no matter what you choose as your political path," he said, "but I think that's a pretty decent choice to make, given the arbitrariness of political life."
He is being challenged by Dave Rogers, a former U.S. Navy SEAL. http://www.rogers2004.com
A Kennedy on the Appropriations Committee. Talk about the fox guarding the chicken coop, or a fireman setting fires!
This is the way politics works in MA/RI. I watch 2 Providence stations for news. While I knew Patches was running I have yet to see 1 item on either channel (10 & 12) about the election. The same thing happened in MA when Kerry ran last time. None of the stations in Boston even mentioned the fact he was up for reelection. It sounds incredible, but it does work this way.