Former Rep. Joseph Kennedy Opts Against Campaign for Late Uncle's Senate Seat

Former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II announced Monday he would not run for the U.S. Senate seat held for nearly 50 years by his late uncle, Edward M. Kennedy.

In a statement, the former six-term congressman and eldest son of Robert F. Kennedy said he cares about those seeking decent housing, fair wages and health care. But he added, "The best way for me to contribute to those causes is by continuing my work at Citizens Energy Corp."

The nonprofit organization provides free heating oil to the poor, but Kennedy likely would have faced campaign questions about fuel provided by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Yet he also might have garnered support from the legions of Massachusetts Democrats who long supported his uncle, as well as national followers of his father, who was a U.S. senator from New York when he was assassinated in June 1968 as he sought the Democratic presidential nomination.

The decision is expected to widen the field of announced candidates for Kennedy's seat. It became vacant Aug. 25, when the senator died of brain cancer at age 77.

Three veteran Massachusetts congressmen -- Reps. Michael Capuano, Edward J. Markey and John Tierney -- have said they are considering campaigns but would not run against a member of the Kennedy family. The senator's widow, Vicki, had previously ruled out a campaign.

Former Rep. Martin Meehan, who is now chancellor of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell but still has nearly $5 million in his campaign account, has also said he would defer to Kennedy although he has been noncommittal on a campaign.

Another Democrat, Rep. Stephen Lynch, said earlier Monday he would "likely" be announcing his candidacy on Monday.

Attorney General Martha Coakley became the first high-profile Democrat to declare for the seat when she announced her candidacy last week.

One prominent Republican, former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, announced Sunday she would not run. But state Sen. Scott Brown made moves to seek the Republican Party nomination himself.