Two weeks before the primary election, U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III is taking aim at U.S. Sen. Ed Markey's record on racial justice and defending the Kennedy family from what he says are "attacks" from the senator.
The Senate primary race between the two Democrats heated up over the past week with the pair taking open digs at each other in live debates and through social media advertising. With voting already underway, the two are competing for support in what has become a closely followed and recently tense race.
At a Tuesday press conference, Kennedy was joined by Black leaders from across the state including Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins and Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer. Kennedy said Markey opposed desegregating Boston Public Schools in the 1970s.
Kennedy also highlighted Markey's support for a 1981 amendment to prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from implementing, or the courts from enforcing, proposed IRS regulations to deny tax-exempt status to private schools that discriminated against racial minorities, an issue that the Kennedy campaign said was thrust to the forefront by Bob Jones University, which had prohibited interracial dating and marriage among students.
"The senator's time would be better spent reconciling his own history with the civil rights movement over the course of the past 50 years," he said. "Senator Markey has been in government for nearly 50 years. He has served in times of tremendous consequence. He's gotten it wrong over and over. So he attacked my family."
Markey, who has served in the Massachusetts federal delegation for over 40 years, consistently cites his experience and record, including working with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Green New Deal. Over the past week, he has subtly poked at Kennedy's family and in one campaign video released Thursday, re-purposed a famous line from President John F. Kennedy in one of the more blunt moments of the race.
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"We asked what we could do for our country. We went out, we did it," he said in the video. "With all due respect, it's time to start asking what your country can do for you."
When talking about racial justice, the Massachusetts senator has previously pointed to his support of the Medicare for All Act of 2017 and efforts to create a commission to study and develop reparation proposals.
Campaign Manager John Walsh called Kennedy's comments "desperate, baseless attacks."
"It's not enough that his Super PAC is running negative ads against Senator Markey, now Congressman Kennedy himself is launching desperate, baseless attacks," he said in a statement on Monday to the News Service. "Senator Markey is running a positive campaign on the issues that matter most to the people of Massachusetts - combating the climate crisis with a Green New Deal, providing universal health care with Medicare For All, fighting for racial justice and police accountability, and stopping the spread of the coronavirus."
The campaigns have ratcheted up negative advertising and the debate last Tuesday grew tense when Markey questioned the funding source of a super PAC backing Kennedy. Kennedy hosted the press conference Tuesday to discuss racial issues and address Markey's comments on the Kennedy family during the debate.
Kennedy invoked President John F. Kennedy working on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, his grandfather and former U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy "sending federal marshals to protect the Freedom Riders," and his aunt Jean Kennedy Smith, a former ambassador to Ireland under President Bill Clinton.
"My uncle Teddy was right here, literally right here where we stand getting garbage thrown at his face by an angry mob for daring to defend desegregation," he said in front of the John F. Kennedy Federal Building. "Meanwhile, Ed Markey was voting to keep Black kids from white classrooms."
Tompkins said a person has to spend time in communities of color to understand the issues facing people who live in those communities.
"We have to get to know the individual that we are hiring to go to Washington, or to go to any State House to represent our needs," he said. "Congressman Joseph Kennedy, in this senatorial race, is that candidate that has shown care and concern. He has showed up time and time again. That's what's needed."
Spicer said Kennedy "needs to be our next United States senator."
"He stands for us. He stands for our families. He stands for our children, our communities because he understands justice is not just a buzzword," she said. "It's a foundation from which all else rises because he understands that Black America has been asked to be patient for too long."
Kennedy and Markey are scheduled to face off for a final debate Tuesday hosted by WCVB along with The Boston Globe, WBUR, and UMass Boston before the primaries on Sept. 1.