Kathleen Kennedy Townsend
Just like her father?
By Sally B. Donnelly
July 26, 1999
Web posted at: 4:27 p.m. EDT (2027 GMT)
When Professor David Townsend and his former student Kathleen
Kennedy were married, their friends gave them a potter's wheel.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. "Kathleen has all the
attributes [for it]: focus, persistence, a spiritual side and
immense desire to complete the work," says David. She was
destined, he thought, to be a wonderful wife, mother--and potter.
The potter's wheel sits still now, covered by cobwebs, in the
basement. And Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, 48, the Lieutenant
Governor of Maryland, has emerged as the most promising of the
next wave of political Kennedys. Although she is the only Kennedy
ever to lose an election--she was beaten in a congressional race
in 1986--she has since been elected twice statewide. And after
five years in the job, where she has focused on fighting crime
and boosting economic development, she is preparing to run for
Governor in 2002. Her ambitions still reach beyond the state
Townsend is the most moderate among the third generation of
vote-seeking Kennedys. Her initiatives on the social front are
infused with moral reproof. Break the Cycle, for example, is an
antidrug effort that requires offenders on parole or
probation--those most likely to go back to a life of crime--to take
frequent drug tests and face harsh and escalating penalties if
they fail. "Her landmark work on crime, community service and
character education serves as a national model for New
Democrats," says Al From, president of the Democratic Leadership
"It wasn't obvious my wife would ever become a public person,"
David told TIME. "It took a long time." And certainly it was not
assumed, even by the election-oriented Kennedys, that the girls
in the family were meant for the job. But the young Kathleen, as
the first grandchild of Joseph Kennedy, was nonetheless expected
to serve in some way. Two days after President Kennedy was
assassinated in 1963, Kathleen's father Robert wrote his
12-year-old daughter a note on White House stationery: "As the
oldest of the next generation you have a particular
responsibility... Be kind to others and work for your country.
Like many in the clan, Townsend grew up with football and
politics and the Washington social swirl and got the requisite
Harvard degree. She courted David during a trip down the
Mississippi River on a homemade raft just after Hurricane Agnes
in 1972. They were married in 1973, and a law degree and children
followed. Her involvement in politics consisted mainly of
volunteering for her uncle Ted's campaigns and stumping for local
and congressional Democratic candidates. But two years after the
family moved to David's home state of Maryland, in 1984, she
decided to run for a congressional seat. The district was
strongly Republican and the Democrats were in disarray, but
Kathleen told her husband, "Someone has to run, and this is where
my kids are going to grow up." She ran as a Townsend and lost.
"That loss was good for her," says former U.S. Senator Joe
Tydings, who has been close to the family for decades. "Kathleen
is just like her father. She is a learner. She had a lot to
Speech coaches, contact lenses, makeup and hairstyling were part
of that education. When gubernatorial candidate Parris Glendening
chose her to be his running mate in 1994, experts doubted she
would help the ticket. But her name recognition--this time she
used Kennedy Townsend--and her fund-raising skills proved them
Townsend has taken her father's admonition to heart and added to
it the special stoicism that comes from being the tribe's eldest.
Her family nicknames include "Clean Kathleen," "the Nun" and "the
Un-Kennedy." Says longtime friend Tim Hagen, a former local
politician in Ohio whom she met while working for her uncle Ted's
1980 presidential campaign: "At times Kathleen is so resolute she
does not accept the irreconcilable." Indeed, her staff says one
of her favorite words is "unacceptable."
The weekend John Kennedy Jr.'s plane went down, Townsend was in
Hyannis Port helping friends and family deal with the tragedy.
"Kathleen has no time for self-pity," says someone close to the
family. "She knows she and her family have been blessed in so
many ways." She spent last week mostly at home with David and
their four daughters.
Townsend has discovered her political talents relatively late in
life, but her husband believes it is a natural development for
her. Kathleen is still shaping things, but this time it's civic
life. "Politics is like pottery, only with a different kind of
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Cover Date: August 1, 1999