AP New England News

New England News

07-07-2000 18:34
Patrick Kennedy: The Camelot torch bearer

Associated Press Writer

WOONSOCKET, R.I. (AP) - Volumes have been written about the Kennedys. There's the day JFK was shot, Jack and Jackie's love story and even ten things Maria Shriver would like you to know. Now, there's another one to add to the list.

``Patrick Kennedy: The Rise to Power'' is a new, unauthorized biography billing the young Rhode Island congressman with tousled hair as Camelot's torch bearer.

The son of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and the nephew of President John Kennedy, Patrick is the highest-ranking Kennedy of his generation and embodies the political future of his family.

The book doesn't have the sales promise of a Harry Potter title. In fact, even Patrick says he is in no hurry to read his life story.

``I can't believe that there's a book written about me,'' he said. ``I mean, I'm not even 33 years old.''

The 161-page paperback stretches from Patrick's asthmatic childhood to his battles in the Rhode Island Statehouse, then to his rise to a leadership position in Congress. It points out that since his cousin, Joseph P. Kennedy II, retired as a Massachusetts congressman in 1998, there's been more room on the stage for Patrick.

``Patrick is now the political crown prince,'' said Brown University professor Darrell West, the book's author. ``People aren't aware of how influential Patrick has become nationally, he really has arrived on the national scene as a player.''

But Patrick says he wasn't ready for his life to go down in history.

``I don't feel that it's anything that spectacular that's worthy of being recorded in a book,'' he said. ``The legacy of my uncles and my father and my aunts, it's too big for me even to begin to think I can scratch the surface of.''

The biography discusses the tension his abortion views caused with the Catholic Church, his treatment for cocaine abuse as a teen-ager, and his role as a key witness in the Palm Beach rape trial for his cousin, William Kennedy Smith.

A frail, shy child who never excelled at sports, Patrick was elected to his first office as a convention delegate while a student at Providence College. Although empowered by family fame and fortune, he was not without his public speaking troubles. He got the nickname ``Patches'' from Boston radio talk show host Howie Carr who routinely ridiculed him on the air.

He became a fast-rising politician who was named chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at age 31 after he was elected to Congress. He is a Kennedy who has used his name to his advantage, but one who ``ranked high in terms of personal honesty,'' the book says.

The book also suggests that John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane crash last year was triggered by dyslexia. An unnamed source says family members did not want to fly with John because of the disorder and his inexperience.

``Nothing's going to bring my cousin John back so all kinds of speculation in terms of how the accident happened is moot as far as I can see,'' Patrick said.

As head of the DCCC, Patrick became one of his party's top fund-raisers and continues to spend much of his time stumping for candidates around the country. So far, he has raised millions to help put more Democrats back in the House.

Mark Pfeifle, a Republican National Committee spokesman, said his party is not threatened by Patrick's efforts.

And although Pfeifle hasn't read the book, he said one reference to Patrick's run-in with a Los Angeles airport security guard should have been expanded. In March, police investigated a complaint from the guard who said Patrick shoved her. Patrick apologized and no charges were filed.

``That should be a chapter in and of itself, explaining his insensitivity to people who are not as rich and powerful as he is,'' Pfeifle said.

Patrick says he knows the book was written because of the attention him name brings.

``I'm very aware that my family name is very well known and there are folks that'll buy the book because of my last name,'' he says. ``But I mean, I'm in political life, it's a major factor in political life.''

Although the book suggests Patrick has presidential aspirations, that is a scenario he dismisses as ``hypothetical.'' After all, he says, he's only in the formative stages of his career.

For now, he's got a bridge to dedicate, a private helicopter to catch to a Connecticut fund-raising luncheon. He shakes hands, poses for a picture with a kid. His aides beckon him to the car. He's got a House to reclaim.

Patrick's been given an autographed copy of the biography.

Reading the book, he says, is on his list.

``I'll get around to it,'' he said.

End advance for release Sunday, July 9