Congressman Joe Kennedy’s insurgent bid to unseat US Sen. Ed Markey in the Sept. 1 primary brought him to Dorchester and Mattapan earlier this month for what his campaign billed as a “Jobs & Justice Tour,” which included meetings with local merchants. The four-term US House member from Newton stopped in Grove Hall, Mattapan, and Fields Corner to greet volunteers who were out canvassing voters.
On Dorchester Avenue, Kennedy stopped into the Boston Hairnista Salon, where owner and hair stylist Andrea Sealey talked to him about the difficulties of running her small business during the pandemic. Talking to people like Sealey, Kennedy said, has been helpful as he crafts his own ideas about how government can help.
“What we’re doing is going out into the communities and saying ‘This is what I think, tell me what you think,’” Kennedy told the Reporter as he left Hairnista. “We’re asking people to give us a sense of what works, what doesn’t, what they need, and where the gaps are.
“She lost one employee, a stylist that got another job,” he said. “They’re not filling all of their seats because they can’t, and they’re taking a hit. They’re able to make it work for a little while, but what’s next?”
He added: “I think one of the many lessons of this moment is that, despite perhaps the best of intentions, federal government policy is not meeting the needs of local communities as well as we need them to. If it was, we wouldn’t have been hit as hard by this.”
Campaigning in the time of COVID-19 has presented challenges for Kennedy, despite his familiar name. He has polled well statewide, but faces an uphill climb in Boston, where he is a first-time candidate. But he can point to roots in this neighborhood, home to both the JFK Presidential Library and Museum and the EMK Institute for the US Senate. His great-grandmother Rose Fitzgerald, daughter of the early 20th-century mayor of Boston John F. (“HoneyFitz”) Fitzgerald, was raised in a home on Ashmont Hill.
“I’m very proud of my Dorchester roots and you know, my extended family has lived all over Boston,” Kennedy said with a laugh. “East Boston when they first arrived, obviously Dorchester, Brookline, Brighton and you know we’ve got a big family, so a lot of folks in all of the places in between.”
He continued: “There’s a reason why the city is home, and to be able to be here and know that history is obviously a powerful connection for me.”
As to his reception in those neighborhoods, Kennedy said, “We’ve enjoyed really great support from across the communities of Boston and from local elected officials. We’ve also been able to earn pretty robust support from local activists. What I’ve been proud of, not even just here in Dorchester but across the state, is it’s a younger generation of elected officials.”
Among them, he has picked up support from two Boston city councillors: Dorchester’s Frank Baker and West Roxbury’s Matt O’Malley. Recently, Rep. Chyna Tyler of Roxbury endorsed him. He also has won the support of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts and a powerhouse Dot-based union, IBEW Local 103.
“Joe Kennedy is absolutely the right person to be Massachusetts’ next US Senator,” Councillor Baker said in a statement. “Joe’s energy, unrelenting passion, and steadfast commitment to the American worker - particularly the men and women of District 3 - is the example that all public servants should seek to emulate.”
“We supported Joe as a representative in Congress and certainly we need new fresh voices in the Senate,” said Lou Antonellis, business manager at Local 103. “The Kennedy name is legendary in Massachusetts politics and we’re no stranger to the Kennedys.”
That name, Antonellis said, is “synonymous with delivering for working people. Everybody is talking about the need for diversity, and our feeling is that Congress and the US Senate shouldn’t be exempt from that. We need generational diversity in Congress and we also need fresh voices in the Senate.”
On his swing through the neighborhood last week, Kennedy said that “what we’ve been pitching and getting some feedback on are things like a Covid response team that could actually come in and help businesses redesign or retrofit their space.
“I was at a barbershop the other day where the owner was hanging sheets from the ceiling in a makeshift way to try to provide additional levels of sanitation. That’s expensive, particularly if you’re trying to do it the right way. You’ve got to keep cleaning it and sanitizing it.”
Kennedy also mentioned the possibility of a “Coding Corps,” modeled after the Federal Jobs Corps, that could train employees in tech-related specialties.
“There are services that we provide from the Jobs Corps. It hires people and gets them trained in new expertise. This is something that’s going to be needed for the intermediate term at the very least,” he said.
“Then there’s the possibility of something like a coding corps, where you would have folks that can outreach to businesses and help them with things like setting up an e-commerce store. So, we’re talking an awful lot about all of that.”
His booster Antonellis said that those ideas are the kind of initiative that has his local excited about backing Kennedy.
“Our membership is younger than it has ever been and they feel like younger workers have been left out by Senate leadership,” Antonellis said. “They want leadership on things like worker healthcare and security on the job. Joe Kennedy is that leader.”