Babysitter sex charge casts fresh cloud over Kennedys

Just when it seemed a popular member of America's most famous political dynasty might be heading for a governorship, the family jinx has struck again, reports David Usborne

Outside the Blue Lilac Antique Store, three women reminisce about the last extraordinary thing to happen in their town, Cohasset, an impossibly genteel New England village south of Boston.

It was 10 years ago, and the actor Jack Nicholson was literally being blown down the main shopping street flat on his back by a battery of giant stage fans. The film was The Witches of Eastwick and Mr Nicholson had been hexed.

Of Cohasset's current drama, they are much less willing to talk. It has placed their town at the epicentre of an earthquake that is shaking all of Massachusetts. And eerily, it too features a famous man who might also be said to be under a hex. He is Michael Kennedy, son of the slain Robert Kennedy.

It has already been a week since the Boston Globe took the lid off allegations that Mr Kennedy had until last autumn been conducting, under the roof of his shingled Cohasset house, an illicit affair with the family baby- sitter. The girl, the daughter of another Cohasset power couple, may even have first been bedded by Mr Kennedy when she was only 14. Unnamed by local papers, she is now 19.

It is as if the Kennedy curse has returned once more. The political dynasty that weathered the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith in Florida in 1991 and the more famous, and tragic, Chappaquiddick affair in 1969 when the car of a then young Edward Kennedy plunged into the ocean killing Mary Jo Kopechne is in crisis again. The local District Attorney is currently investigating whether formal charges should be pressed. If Mr Kennedy indeed slept with the girl when she was 14 he could be convicted of statutory rape.

Politically, the timing is awful. The man with the most to lose aside from Michael himself is his brother, Joe Kennedy. Blessed by the Camelot mantle and formidably popular, Joe has long been favoured one day to step up from his seat in the House of Representatives in Washington to the office of the Governor of Massachusetts. That opportunity unexpectly presented itself at the beginning of last week, when President Clinton nominated the current Governor, Republican William Weld, to be US Ambassador to Mexico.

But at the very moment he needs it, Joe Kennedy finds his popularity is eroding like a sand bar in a hurricane. Part of the blame lies with Michael, who is now separated from his wife, Vicki, with whom he has three children. Michael is close to Joe. He also managed the tough, but ultimately successful, 1994 re-election campaign of his uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy.

"There is no question this hurts him [Joe]," observed Lou DiNatale, a professor of politics at the University of Massachusetts. "It means the continuing image of the Kennedys and their relationship with women will hang in the background while the campaign unfolds. While to date that has never been a fatal electoral flaw, it could be moving to critical mass".

While all this is going on, Joe has been smacked by an entirely different kind of woman problem of his own. It centres on a highly public campaign being waged against him by his ex-wife, Sheila Rauch Kennedy.

Joe, a Catholic of course, obtained a civil divorce from Sheila in 1991. Two years later, however, he told her he was asking for an annulment of their marriage so he could marry his new wife in church and begin taking communion again. The annulment was granted by the Archdiocese of Boston last autumn, but Sheila has appealed against it, taking it all the way to the Vatican. She has also written about it.

Sheila's book, Shattered Faith, has just hit the book shops - and the TV talk shows. Of Joe, it is hardly complimentary. She says over the years she was increasingly bullied by Joe who treated her as a "nobody". She wrote: "By the end of the marriage I had simply become afraid of him". Of the day he asked for the annulment, she says: "As I rushed to the bathroom, I tried to remember when I had last actually vomited ... I remember thinking Joe must simply be out of his mind."

If Mr Weld is confirmed as ambassador, the governorship will pass first to the current Lieutenant Governor, Republican Paul Cellucci, until an election for the post in November 1998. A Globe poll last week showed Joe Kennedy trailing Mr Cellucci and even his likely Democratic rival in the primary. And 28 per cent of those polled said the combination of the annulment controversy and the allegations against Michael made them less likely to support Joe.

Outside the antique shop, Marjorie Devoe acknowledges that the damage done to Joe might be real. "I grew up in the JFK era and we tolerated Ted at least because he came with such clout. But how much clout does Joe really have? I think this will come to affect him". She also believes that the anger against Michael is only just below the surface. "When the dust settles, the outrage will come out."

Just tonight, however, Cohasset has the perfect chance to escape from it all. The Witches of Eastwick is on television.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Director / Operations Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: EWI / IWI Installer

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of design...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'