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Joe Kennedy's Campaign To Oust Sen. Markey Shows Generational Divide Among Democrats

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This past weekend, Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III officially launched his campaign to oust a fellow progressive, long-serving Senator Ed Markey. From member station WBUR in Boston, Anthony Brooks reports the contest represents a generational split within the Democratic Party.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Let's go, Joe. Let's go, Joe. Let's go, Joe.

JOE KENNEDY III: Thank you, guys.

ANTHONY BROOKS, BYLINE: Joe Kennedy began his campaign Saturday in East Boston.

KENNEDY: My great-grandfather was born a few blocks from here on Meridian Street. His son served this neighborhood in Congress and then went on to serve as president of the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

BROOKS: Kennedy is the grandnephew of former President John F. Kennedy and the grandson of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy. He says his campaign to unseat Ed Markey will focus on economic justice, immigration and Donald Trump.

KENNEDY: So it's not enough to fight back just against Donald Trump, but you've got to address the underlying structures, that calcified system that - a broken system that allowed him to win in the first place.

BROOKS: Kennedy and Markey are both progressives who differ little on policy. So this is a generational clash between the 73-year-old Markey, Massachusetts' longest serving member of Congress, and 38-year-old Kennedy, who was born four years after Markey was first elected to the House.

ED MARKEY: This is the most energized I have ever been in my career.

BROOKS: Ed Markey has pushed progressive causes for years from nuclear disarmament to the Green New Deal, which he co-sponsored with New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has endorsed him.

MARKEY: As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, I am the generational change which this country needs. And I'm going to run on all those issues.

BROOKS: The race offers a complicated choice for many Massachusetts Democrats, exciting some while angering others.

BARNEY FRANK: I'm disappointed by it, as I told him. It's ego at the expense of value.

BROOKS: Retired Congressman Barney Frank, who used to hold the seat now occupied by Kennedy, calls Kennedy's challenge self-indulgent. He said Democrats should focus on their fight with Republicans.

FRANK: Diverting our energy from that, using up the money, manpower and changing the debate is a terrible mistake.

BROOKS: Kennedy rejects Frank's argument.

KENNEDY: I think what you need in this country at the moment is broad-based campaigns across the entire country, bringing people into that process, not trying to keep them out of it. How is that a bad thing?

BROOKS: Kennedy is regarded as a rising star in the Democratic Party after delivering the rebuttal to President Trump's State of the Union address last year. Kathleen Monteleone of Boston, who came out to see Kennedy on Saturday, says she likes Markey, but she loves the Kennedys.

KATHLEEN MONTELEONE: They're both wonderful. I wish they weren't running at the same time. But, you know, Kennedy is a breath of fresh air. I saw JFK speak, so I've been a fan of the Kennedys and was inspired ever since.

BROOKS: Early polls suggest that Kennedy's family name and his rising prominence within the party will be a formidable challenge for Markey.

For NPR News, I'm Anthony Brooks in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.