BOSTON — She has shunned the political limelight since she lost the Maryland governor’s race in 2002, but in this town at this time, she has the ultimate political calling card: She’s a Kennedy.
Former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, oldest of 11 children of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, brings a little cachet to the Maryland delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Kennedy country. The state party’s chief knows her value.
Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Isiah “Ike” Leggett said Massachusetts is an area where Democrats “have a great deal of influence — the Kennedy legacy and influence here — and we wanted to reflect that” with Townsend’s presence in the delegation.
Kennedys abound in New England politics: There is Townsend’s uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts; her brother, former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy of Massachusetts; and her cousin, Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island.
Townsend declined to discuss her own political aspirations, redirecting all queries back to her support of the Kerry-Edwards’ ticket.
Asked if she’s considering a comeback, Townsend said, “I’m considering quite very hard to make John Kerry our next president.”
She’s a delegate, she said, only to help Kerry, D-Mass., become president. After the convention, she said she’s “going to be on the trail, working really hard for John Kerry.”
As for her plans after the election, she said: “I’m going to make sure that we win first.”
The convention marks the re-emergence of Townsend, a public policy professor at Georgetown University, after her gubernatorial loss.
At a Maryland delegation breakfast Tuesday, she sat at the head table with Sen. Paul Sarbanes, Leggett and other state party leaders. Later, several Democrats approached and exchanged friendly banter.
The delegation seat is a way of “keeping herself visible,” Leggett said.
The power of the Kennedy legacy was on display for the delegation at a Monday visit to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.
Her focus, too, was on family.
While her fellow delegates admired exhibits celebrating her uncle’s legacy, Townsend instead attended a ceremony dedicating a greenway in another part of Boston for her grandmother, the late Rose Kennedy.
At this year’s convention, Townsend is a PLEO delegate, short for a party leader or elected official. Such at-large seats are often laurels for former holders of high state office, said Ron Walters, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.
“It’s probably a way of keeping in the mix and a way of accepting recognition of the state,” Walters said.
Dan Rupli, a delegate from Frederick who worked on Townsend’s gubernatorial campaign, said her presence in the delegation suggests she’s still interested in public office, though she hasn’t mentioned any plans to him.
“I don’t think she’s out of it,” said Rupli, a former counsel to then-Gov. Parris Glendening.