- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 27, 2009

The third Kennedy generation - a near-century removed from Joe and Rose and standing in the shadows of the JFK image - is one filled with enormous possibilities but lacking in inevitability as the family torch is passed with patriarch Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s death.

While the late senator asserted that “the dream lives on” during his passionate speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, just who in his famous family emerges as its new star remains unclear - even as public expectations remain high.

Historian and author Douglas Brinkley said many in the younger Kennedy clan are carrying on the family mission of service and public work “beautifully,” some in politics and others in issues like the environment and human rights. They may soon emerge as a force on the political scene, with the Kennedy brand name an obvious draw.

“I think all of the children have served useful roles in public life,” said Mr. Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University. “They are all in the public service arena. I think Sen. Kennedy was just wildly proud of what they were all doing.”

Of the current crop of Kennedy relatives making their mark, Mr. Brinkley thinks Kerry Kennedy “is going to be a huge star in the Democratic Party in New York.”

Now, he said, she is focused on raising her children and getting them through high school, but he believes she will emerge in the years ahead as the top Kennedy to watch.

“She does all this human rights work,” he said. “She mesmerizes crowds everywhere she goes.”

Ms. Kennedy, 49, is the seventh child of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel Kennedy, the mother of three and former wife of New York political figure Andrew Cuomo. She is a lawyer and human rights activist who speaks out on domestic and global abuses, particularly those involving women and children. She is the author of the book “Speak Truth to Power” and leads education initiatives on that topic around the world.

She is not alone among the younger Kennedys who may step up and play a greater role in politics.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., said Mr. Brinkley, “is probably the foremost environmentalist in the U.S. today.

“I think there will be biographies and books written about him,” he said. “He has already made a historic name for himself.”

Mr. Kennedy, 55, a frequent public speaker, serves as president of the New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance, as senior attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, and as chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper, helping to restore that waterway and others around the world. An author, he has been involved in family politics in the campaigns of Ted Kennedy as well as the presidential bids of Al Gore and John Kerry. He graduated from Harvard University and the University of Virginia’s law school.

Another family member mentioned as a possible successor is Ted Kennedy’s son, Patrick Kennedy, a U.S. representative from Rhode Island. He won election at age 21 to the Rhode Island legislature, becoming the youngest Kennedy to hold such an office. Now 42, he has served the state’s 1st Congressional District since 1995. He has been a health care advocate in Congress but has struggled personally with prescription pain-killer dependence, seeking treatment for an addiction to OxyContin in 2006. He continued treatment for his addiction issues earlier this year.

Former U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy II, 56, is also being talked about as a possible Senate hopeful in some media accounts. He represented Massachusetts’ 8th District, taking over the seat vacated by the late House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill. Handsome and known as a passionate speaker, he left office in 1999 and has since worked at the Citizens Energy Corp., a nonprofit he founded to provide low-cost heating oil to low-income people here and abroad.

Other prominent family members include:

• Rory Kennedy, 40, who has made a name for herself as an award-winning documentary filmmaker but has shown no interest in political office. A mother of three who lives in New York, she was born after her famous father, Robert, was assassinated.

• Ted Kennedy’s other son, Edward M. Kennedy Jr., 47, an investment banker and lawyer who serves as president of a financial services firm. He has worked as a public speaker and advocate on disability and civil rights issues, having lost a leg to cancer when he was 12.

Laurence Leamer, the author of the Kennedy family book “Sons of Camelot - The Fate of an American Dynasty,” told CNN from Nepal Wednesday afternoon that he thinks “the torch has burned its generation down.

“There is no longer an inevitability about Kennedys winning [in] national politics,” he said of a possible Ted Kennedy successor, even as speculation continues in advance of a special election.

“The Kennedys have done many good things. So many Kennedys are doing useful things in the world, but that doesn’t mean they are going to be the next senator from Massachusetts.”

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