Seeking Congressional Seat : Joseph Kennedy II Continues Legacy

Times Staff Writer

A prince from Camelot met some surfside sultans this week as Joseph P. Kennedy II, the eldest son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, arrived in Santa Monica to raise money for his Massachusetts congressional campaign.

The Monday night fund-raiser drew several hundred people to Scratch restaurant and netted the smiling Kennedy more than $30,000. Several guests said they were attracted by the Kennedy mystique. Others said they support Kennedy's nonprofit work on behalf of the poor and elderly.

Santa Monica Councilman Alan Katz, a sponsor, said liberal Democrats such as Kennedy always receive strong support from people in West Los Angeles.

"California draws candidates from all over the country," Katz said. "And Joe Kennedy is the kind of candidate a lot of Westside Democrats want to see in office. They feel that he represents a certain philosophy of government."

Kennedy, 33, has been called a strong contender for the 8th Congressional District seat in Massachusetts once held by his uncle, the late President John F. Kennedy. (The White House during John F. Kennedy's presidency was sometimes referred to as Camelot.) The seat is being vacated by Democratic House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr., and Kennedy's candidacy has drawn considerable attention. On Monday, a battery of photographers stood by as the candidate and his brother, Michael, arrived at the fund-raiser.

The curly-haired Kennedy was mobbed by supporters as he entered the restaurant. Later, the elbow-to-elbow crowd, which included celebrities such as Jon Voight and Shelley Duvall as well as several Westside-area politicians, jockeyed for position near Kennedy as he moved through the restaurant.

Kennedy said he was thrilled by the reception. "I think it's terrific," he said. "This is one of the few fund-raisers that is really a fun raiser."

The event was organized by Peter and Gail de Krassel, owners of Scratch. Peter de Krassel said he has supported the Kennedys since 1964, when he met Robert Kennedy on the streets of New York City.

De Krassel worked in Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign and later learned of Joe Kennedy's work at the Citizens Energy Corp., a nonprofit agency in Boston that provides low-cost heating oil for the poor and elderly.

"I was fascinated by what he did with it," de Krassel said. "And when I heard he was running for the congressional seat, I offered to help."

Events for Other Candidates

De Krassel also has hosted fund-raisers for Santa Monica Councilman William H. Jennings, state Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia) and Terry B. Friedman, Democratic nominee in the 43rd Assembly District race here. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, the Democratic candidate for governor, and Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston will be feted there later this year.

The restaurant owner said he supports any candidate who is "working for a better future." He said Joe Kennedy fits that mold. When he formally introduced Kennedy to the crowd, de Krassel said he was pleased to welcome the "peoples capitalist" to the "peoples republic" of Santa Monica.

Kennedy, dressed in a navy blue suit and a blue-and-white striped shirt, started his speech by talking about his family's political legacy.

"This is the state that gave my father his greatest victory," Kennedy said, his voice swelling. "It's also the state where we lost my father. (Robert Kennedy won the California Democratic presidential primary in 1968. He was shot by an assassin moments after delivering his victory speech.) But I know there are many supporters of Robert and John Kennedy here tonight." Later, Kennedy said he would remain committed to helping the poor if he wins the election.

"There are people doing very well in America," said Kennedy, who spent the early part of the day talking to local officials about low-cost utilities. "But others aren't. If you've made it in Hollywood, you must realize that we've got to work together. People must put something back into their country."

'Helping the Underdog'

Los Angeles Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky was on hand for the speech. He said he was impressed. "I think Joe Kennedy is in the best tradition of Democratic party politics," Yaroslavsky said, "helping the underdog and being a voice for those who are voiceless in the decision making."

Santa Monica Councilman James P. Conn said he is happy to see another generation of Kennedys enter politics. He said the successful fund-raiser proved that the Kennedys still have political and emotional appeal.

"These people are here tonight because, somewhere along the line, the Kennedy name has meant something to them," Conn said. "It's magical."

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