Kennedy daughter linked to Gore bid Gore

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The Independent Online
ONE OF the many archive clips replayed after the death of John F Kennedy Jnr showed his father, the late president, being asked whether he would like his son to follow in his political footsteps. With a speed of political wit now more associated with President Bill Clinton and a care for gender equality not typical of his time, JFK flashed back: "My daughter, too."

JFK's only daughter, Caroline, at 41 four years her brother's senior, has steered clear of politics. But her cousin, Kathleen - the eldest child of the other assassinated Kennedy brother, Robert - has quietly won her way through to senior elected office. Now 48, and convincingly re-elected lieutenant (deputy) governor of Maryland last November, she - rather than any of the new generation of male Kennedys - is the one on whom the mantle, and burden, of the JFK legacy may now rest.

There was even a suggestion last week that she could be a contender for vice-president on the ticket of the current Vice-President, Al Gore. In its timing - immediately after JFK Jnr's death - and its implication that Mr Gore might not be above exploiting the Kennedy tragedy for political advantage the suggestion was extremely cynical. It was also condescending.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend had already been mooted as a plausible running mate for Mr Gore. She associated herself early on with his presidential campaign, lining up recently with other prominent female Democrats to laud him at the inaugural Women for Gore 2000 reception in Washington. And she would undoubtedly be an electoral asset. Not only is she supremely well connected - she was one of only a dozen people invited by the Clintons to travel on Air Force One to the memorial service in New York last Friday - she is also a highly competent politician.

In one of those eerie Kennedy echoes, Kathleen Kennedy was named after her father's eldest sister, who had died in a flying accident in the South of France three years earlier. Like Mr Gore's first grandson, born earlier this month, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has the dream birthday for an American politician: 4 July, Independence Day.

She was born and grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, and went to Harvard, where she graduated with honours in history and literature. Like so many of her relatives, she took a graduate law degree. Unlike so many of her relatives, however, there has been no whiff of personal irresponsibility, still less scandal, attached to her name. After her marriage to David Townsend, she settled quietly in Maryland where her husband teaches, had four daughters - two still at home, two at college - and became active in local Democratic politics.

She became her state's assistant attorney general in 1985, transferring to head an office in the education department two years later. In the first Clinton administration, she was appointed deputy assistant attorney general, with responsibility for community policing.

In 1994 she ran for lieutenant governor of Maryland on the winning ticket of Parris Glendening, a professor at the University of Maryland. The first female lieutenant governor in the state's history, she took sole charge of law and order and women and children and rapidly gained a reputation for eye-catching initiatives, and - more importantly - for getting things done. Her low-key, slightly self-deprecating manner and her sensible hair- do and suits, set her apart from the openly ambitious politicians who throng the Washington area.

When Mr Glendening stood for re-election last year, his prospects were considered marginal to hopeless. His bland, lacklustre manner was blamed for bringing Maryland less outside investment and fewer new jobs than neighbouring Virginia attracted. In the event, the personal popularity and common-sense style of his deputy was widely credited with clinching their joint victory.

Her success with female voters would be a definite plus for Mr Gore's campaign; the "gender gap" which worked to Bill Clinton's advantage currently appears to favour his Republican rival, George W Bush. As lieutenant governor of Maryland, She has a strong record in women's issues, including pioneering initiatives to combat domestic violence, and is a fervent supporter of tough gun controls. As a member of Mr Glendening's team, she is also associated with town and country planning projects designed to tackle one of Mr Gore's cherished issues: urban sprawl.

All the signs are that Mrs Kennedy Townsend is grooming herself to run for governor of Maryland - unless, of course, she is whisked away to join Mr Gore's ticket first. Her track record is impressive and her campaign style effective. And the resonance of the Kennedy name cannot be underestimated; especially now.