Saying his top priority must now be the fight to preserve the civil rights of the nation’s disabled, Democratic State Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr., announced last night he will not seek a third term this year in the Connecticut State Senate.
Earlier this year Kennedy had been seen as a potential gubernatorial candidate until he withdrew his name from that pool, as well.
Kennedy, who lives in Branford with his wife, Kiki and their two children, is a disability survivor who lost his leg to bone cancer when he was 12. He was elected chairman of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) in June. He has described his organization as the “foremost civil rights and public policy organization representing a whole cohort of people with disabilities across our country.”
He told the Eagle in an interview Wednesday night that “there has never been a greater threat to the disability community than there is now. I can’t stand aside,” he said.
“This has to be my top priority,” he said, adding he is not leaving politics. Rather, he said, “I am redirecting my political focus.” One of his goals is to use his energy to rev up one million new voters, voters who are disabled. “We need to harness this force.”
In his interview with the Eagle he said “no one was expecting the Trump administration.” It changed everything,” especially for the 50 million Americans who live with disabilities, he added. Their needs, he said, “are under imminent threat.”
“The decision to not seek reelection was a very difficult one because I love my job and the legislative process. I feel honored and privileged to serve in the Connecticut General Assembly, and I am extraordinarily grateful to the hard-working residents of Branford, Guilford, Madison, North Branford, Durham and Killingworth for entrusting me to represent them and their needs,” he said earlier in a press release.
“I plan to focus my energy on my longstanding work as a disability rights lawyer and advocate for inclusion and justice for people with disabilities. A cause that I have championed since losing my leg to bone cancer when I was 12 years old. Unfortunately, many of the civil rights gained by people with disabilities are now under imminent threat, as the current federal administration works to dismantle these hard-fought rights, achieved over the past two decades through bipartisan efforts.”
Kennedy, the son of the late U.S. Senator, Edward M. Kennedy, the “liberal lion” of the U.S. Senate, and a nephew of President John F. Kennedy, decided not to run for Governor earlier this year. He is currently co-chair of the senate environment committee and vice-chair of the public health committee. He was first elected to the Senate in 2014, succeeding Ed Meyer, (D-Guilford), who served ten years.
A Hint At MLK Day Speech
In delivering Branford’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. address in January, Kennedy spoke of his deep commitment to the disabled, their needs and the threat to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), by the Trump Administration. He told the audience that the ADA would not become law today. As the keynote speaker, Kennedy drew on his family’s civil rights history and on preserving and continuing to protect and extend the federal and state civil rights laws that apply to the disabled.
“The recent harmful changeover taking place in our nation’s Capitol is taking a wrecking ball to the 30 years of bipartisan progress that we have been able to make in the area of disability rights. I could not stand by and watch 30 years get demolished,” he said, foreshadowing the decision he announced last night.
Kennedy, 56, said the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) is facing serious threats. “HB620 would roll back the protections of the Disability Act,” he said. It passed the House of Representatives on Feb. 15. On other fronts, he said there are serious threats to medical coverage for those with pre-existing medical conditions and that he fears that special education is being threatened. “The list goes on and on. ”
At the Martin Luther King Day talk, Kennedy recalled the day in 1990 when he witnessed the signing of the ADA into law. “I can remember back in 1990 watching President George Bush in the Rose Garden signing the ADA. It is the greatest civil rights document ever codified. And you know what? We did it in a bi-partisan way,” he said to a round of applause. “I don’t believe the Americans with Disabilities Act could pass today in Congress. We would never, ever be able to pass this law today.”
He quoted the opening lines of the ADA to the audience:
“The preamble of the Americans with Disabilities Act sets forth the aspirations for what we are trying to accomplish with civil rights legislation. The preamble of the ADA says that discrimination against those with disabilities is a grave and pervasive social problem persisting in such areas as employment, transportation and access to public services.”
The disabled were politically powerless, he said, “based on circumstances beyond their control. If some of this language rings familiar with people that’s because that was exactly what it was intended to do. These words are lifted, practically word for word, from the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
In his MLK, Jr. speech, Kennedy spoke of the commitment his father and brothers had to civil rights, a commitment he now plans to continue.
Why were they so committed, he asked. “I think my own thoughts are that they were deeply influenced in their relationship with my aunt Rosemary who was born with intellectual disabilities. They witnessed firsthand how differently she was treated. How she was excluded. They understood firsthand the pain that millions of families feel as they watch a sibling struggle for social acceptance. Or a parent search in vain for an educational program or a job opportunity in order to promote independence”.
The reality of inclusiveness, of helping the disabled to lead their lives stayed with Kennedy to this day, he said.
What we see now, he told the Eagle in his first telephone interview after announcing his decision, “is so alarming. What we have seen is so frightening. We need to coalesce and resist these harmful changes. We need to harness our forces and we need to vote”.