A new book and another scandal may finally hit the Kennedys where it would hurt--in the ballot box
By Margaret Carlson
(TIME, May 12) -- When you look at the third generation of Kennedy men, much of what remains of a once powerful dynasty is good teeth, good hair and the best public relations a trust fund can buy. Some of the boys grew from being spoiled and bratty--belittling the help, once chasing the cook up a tree at Hickory Hill--into full-blown debauchery, driving fast, drinking hard, club hopping like wild men. Most of this got spun by family retainers into the playful high jinks of a raucous clan. But the escapades got seamier over time and the spinning harder: a joyride with Joe Kennedy II left a young woman paralyzed after an accident on Nantucket. Bobby Jr. was arrested for possession of heroin. David died in a Florida hotel of a cocaine, Demerol and Mellaril overdose. William Kennedy Smith was accused and acquitted of rape, after a night out with Uncle Ted, who can never erase Chappaquiddick.
Now Michael Kennedy, the sixth child of Robert Kennedy, who once seemed to have his father's quiet passion without the Kennedy sense of entitlement, finds himself at the center of a new scandal--that he allegedly had a five-year affair with a girl who baby-sat his three children at the family home in Cohasset, Mass., beginning when she was 14. At the same time, Joe II, a six-term Congressman planning to run for Governor, is trying to weather a just published book, Shattered Faith, by ex-wife Sheila Rauch Kennedy that depicts him as a narcissistic bully and protests his efforts to have their 12-year marriage annulled.
In Kennedyland, where everyone is his brother's keeper, the blowback from Michael's scandal and publicity surrounding Shattered Faith have sent Joe's popularity sinking. In Boston Herald polls, 17% of voters said they are less likely to vote for Joe based on Michael's problems alone, and 1 in 4 has a less favorable view of Joe as a result of the book. Suddenly, worthy but dull attorney general Scott Harshbarger looks like a strong Democratic candidate for Governor in 1998. And the heretofore impossible in Massachusetts seems plausible: an office a Kennedy wants could be kept from him.
The baby-sitter story broke in the Boston Globe on April 25, just as Michael and Victoria Gifford Kennedy, the daughter of ABC sportscaster Frank Gifford, were officially separating. The paper reported that Victoria had discovered Michael in bed with the teenage baby sitter in January 1995, an incident Michael blamed on alcohol. He then enrolled in a rehab program. But apparently the two continued to be seen together around the wealthy seaside town and, according to a report in the Herald, even went on a whitewater rafting trip, organized by his closest friends, and shared a tent. Victoria seemed to ignore the swirling rumors about the continuation of the relationship, which is apparently a family tradition. In The Kennedy Women, Laurence Leamer writes that patriarch Joe stuck Gloria Swanson in Rose's face "so close that she could see the pores on her skin," yet Rose acted oblivious, for "as long as nothing was said...life could go on as before."
It was the girl's father, prominent businessman and Kennedy contributor Paul Verrochi, who confronted his daughter about the affair, after being told of it by neighbors, according to press reports. Despite an upbringing that included a uniformed chauffeur, Verrochi's daughter began baby sitting the Kennedy children when she was at the local middle school. According to longtime Cohasset resident Dan Collins, the two families were such good friends that "Michael Kennedy would call her parents and say they were going to be out late and that she should just sleep over." The teenager ended the relationship shortly before leaving for Boston University last fall.
Joe's scandal didn't have to happen. He had got divorced in 1991 with no electoral downdraft. As Irish luck would have it, he had married a woman much like the woman who married dear old Granddad: silent in the face of a raw pursuit of power and pleasure. When the marriage ended, Sheila didn't utter a peep, not even asking for alimony. For the sake of the children, she stayed in the Boston area, moving into a rundown house in Cambridge, which she renovated. When Joe soon took up with an aide in his office, Beth Kelly, Sheila said nothing; when he married her, Sheila wished the couple well.
But being a Kennedy means never having to leave well enough alone. Joe wanted to remain in the church, so he was willing to say that because he'd lacked "due discretion," he had never really been married. When Sheila got a curt notice of the annulment proceeding from the Boston archdiocese, she proceeded to fight. In an interview she explained that nobody "has ever been able to convince me that an annulment was in the best interest of the children, so the argument that was used to keep me in line before didn't cut the mustard this time."
Another Massachusetts politician, Senator John Kerry, married to 57-varieties heir Teresa Heinz, shocked his former wife of 12 years in November when she was notified of his annulment filing. And although Senator Edward Kennedy won't say whether his first marriage was annulled, he did take Communion at his mother's funeral and maintains that his "second marriage had been blessed by the church."
Like a recession, a scandal is best early in an election cycle. A Globe/WBZ-TV poll last week found that Joe Kennedy was viewed negatively by 39% of voters. In the 1994 Senate elections Ted Kennedy's negatives were above 50%, yet he easily won re-election, thanks in part to a second marriage that restored his soul.
Local analysts believe Joe will regain his lead, though without Michael as campaign chairman. A year from now, Michael and the Baby Sitter and Joe and the Annulment will have joined Amy and Joey and Donald and Marla in the landfill of tabloid dreck. And to paraphrase Senator Kennedy's speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1980, the teeth still sparkle, the hair is thick, and the dream will never die.
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