THE CAMPAIGN: Pride of the Clan

  • Share
  • Read Later

(7 of 10)

Warming Up. After Joe Jr.'s death, Jack Kennedy stepped instinctively into his brother's shoes. "Just as I went into politics because Joe died," he explained later, "if anything happened to me tomorrow, my brother Bobby would run for my seat in the Senate, and if Bobby died, Teddy would take over for him." In the family war councils it was decided that Jack should make his political debut in the congressional race for Boston's Eleventh District—a Democratic citadel that includes Cambridge and Harvard, but is largely made up of slums and the middle-class Irish and Italian wards of East Boston. It was home ground for Honey Fitz, and the area where Joe Kennedy was born, but Jack was a complete stranger. He rented a carpetbagger's quarters in the Hotel Bellevue in order to qualify as a "resident," and plunged into the primary campaign against eight opponents. At first he was shy and ill at ease, but as the campaign warmed up, so did he. Watching his son shake hands on a busy corner of Maverick Square, old Joe was frankly amazed: "I never thought Jack had it in him."

Honey Fitz, brimming with pride, provided his grandson with a phalanx of seasoned ward heelers, but Jack preferred the rank-amateur assistance of his college friends, wartime shipmates and Ivy Leaguers who flocked to help out in the campaign. The old pols were disgusted, until Jack and his youthful supporters won handsomely, with 42% of the vote. On the night of the primary victory, old Honey Fitz, 83, crawled up on a table, danced a stiff-legged Irish jig and sang Sweet Adeline. It was the swan song for the old, colorful and rascally breed of Boston Irish politics.

Congressman Kennedy took his oath of office on the same day and at the same moment as a young freshman from California, Richard Nixon. Their paths were destined to cross again. In three lackluster terms in the House, Jack kept his distance from the machine-tooled Massachusetts delegation (he was the only member to refuse to sign a petition for a presidential pardon for the doughty James Michael Curley, his grandfather Fitzgerald's ancient political rival—then languishing in jail for mail fraud). In 1952 Jack was ready to play for higher stakes. At the clan councils he toyed with the idea of running for the governorship, but eventually decided to make an audacious try for the Senate seat of Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.-"When you've beaten him, you've beaten the best," advised Joe Kennedy. "Why try for something less?"

In his Senate campaign Jack called out the clan. Bobby was a meticulous campaign manager, crisscrossing Massachusetts like an anxious welterweight, head down, looking up through bushy eyebrows with a baleful stare. State Senator John Powers asked Joe Kennedy for his wife's services as a campaigner. "But she's a grandmother," he protested. "Yes, but she's beautiful, and she's the mother of a Congressman, and we need her," was the reply. Rose went to work, with Eunice, Pat and Jean, at the famous Boston tea parties, and the Clan Kennedy smashed Cabot Lodge and turned back the Eisenhower riptide by 70,000 votes. ("It was those damned tea parties," Lodge said afterward.)

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10