LOWELL — U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who is in a tighter than expected race against incumbent U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, got even more specific, and perhaps a little more sharp-tongued than in previous Sun interviews, when pressed on what sets him apart from a respected incumbent who agrees with him on many of the nation’s biggest issues.
Kennedy acknowledged sharing many views with Markey — both called for massive federal spending to save the economy from the COVID-19 pandemic in interviews with The Sun this month — but said that while Markey has an impressively progressive voting record, he simply hasn’t shown up to help do grassroots work to support important causes.
Markey, who touted his roots in Massachusetts and said his experiences and the input he gets from here drives his work to vote and write legislation in Washington, “has said that this job is about the votes cast and the bills that you file,” Kennedy said.
“That’s important. No question. But I wholeheartedly reject that limited vision,” Kennedy added.
Kennedy said Markey was not in Massachusetts at times when the Senate was not in session, and that he should have been here supporting causes that he often supports via votes. He cited recent criticism of Markey from the family of DJ Henry.
“I was in nearly 20 states across the country campaigning for dozens of others,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said he was also a leader of the Yes on Three campaign to increase transgender protections in the Bay State, pushed for automatic voter registration in the state, and had a new baby enter his family even as he kept working on issues. He repeatedly referred to Markey as a 47-year incumbent.
He said the closeness of the race — which tightened as the Kennedy campaign made several major gaffes recently — does not surprise him even though it has raised some pundit’s eyebrows.
“I thought when I jumped into this race back 10 months ago or so that taking on an incumbent of 47 years in a Democratic primary was not going to be an easy thing,” Kennedy said. “No doubt, we always knew it was going to be a tight race and anticipated that the senator was going to fight through to the very end.”
Like Markey, Kennedy called for massive federal spending and far more federal leadership on pandemic response, saying a lack of federal leadership is one of the issues currently hamstringing the national response.
He went farther than Markey when asked if he supports a federal mask mandate. Markey called for such a mandate but said he wasn’t sure what enforcement mechanism should be in place, while Kennedy called for a federal law requiring them.
He minced no words on the pandemic when asked about stalled efforts to pass additional emergency aid measures.
“We should be very nervous of what’s going to transpire if additional economic assistance is not provided and the devastating, cascading effects and consequences that we’ll have as people seek to save every single penny that they can,” he said. “This is what happens when you have an abdication of responsibility from the executive branch.”
He also strongly defended the spending Democrats are seeking, a point on which he doesn’t disagree with Markey.
“Lets me be clear, the things that they (Republicans and the administration) are holding back are things like support for Lowell. It’s holding back economic assistance to cities and towns. They’re holding back on funds for schools so that our kids can go to daycare and back to the classroom,” Kennedy said. “I’m not trying to spend my grandkid’s money on a $3 trillion stimulus program just for fun. I want to make this investment so that we can actually provide the clarity and certainty to our communities.”
Kennedy joined Markey in saying his number one pick for Joe Biden’s running mate would be Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Kennedy did not join Markey in saying that any choice other than Warren should be an African American woman.
Asked about his previous support for Monica Cannon-Grant, who has been sharply criticized for calling a political opponent a “heffer” and criticizing racial mixing, Kennedy said the comments were “highly inappropriate,” but said he continues to support Cannon-Grant in the wake of an apology that he believes was genuine.
“Monica is an activist and advocate and gets passionate, and she acknowledged she got a bit too passionate there,” Kennedy said. “She’s dedicated herself to fighting against gun violence and racism in the streets of Boston for a long time, and I’m still proud to have her support.”
“She’s accepted responsibility for it and said she messed up, which we all do from time to time. And I think when people do, the best they can do is own it, apologize, and go out there and prove it, and I think she’s doing her best to do that.”