Email about frat prompts officials to defend Kennedy

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – On a Tuesday evening two weeks ago, a lengthy email landed in the inboxes of Democratic Party officials around the state from someone claiming to be “Stephen Acab,” a concerned citizen from Natick who insisted he had no ties to U.S Sen. Edward Markey’s reelection campaign.

The email writer said he felt that U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III had been let off easy for his affiliation with a fraternity while at Stanford University whose national organization has a history of connections to the confederacy and racist behavior.

Kennedy and a group of his college friends disaffiliated from Kappa Alpha last summer, and detailed that decision in a Facebook Live event organized in June by Kennedy’s campaign. Kennedy called the fraternity’s history of racism “disgusting and despicable,” but the writer asked, “Do we really know him?”

“White silence is violence,” the man wrote. “In this moment we all must speak out. Kennedy being so quiet for all these years about his racist frat that even he admits, promotes white supremacy and indoctrinates young men with dangerous lies and white privilege is violence, too.”

The email ignited strong emotions among Black elected officials and community organizers who responded that weekend with a letterof their own defending Kennedy and calling on U.S. Sen. Edward Markey to disavow the attack. Actually written by a local attorney named Stephen Bedell, the message, they said, was the latest example of a pattern in the U.S. Senate race of “vitriol heretofore unknown in Massachusetts politics.”

“Mr. Bedell’s false accusations are offensive. But we are offended most of all by his use of anti-racism as a political weapon for his candidate of choice. Black America has had enough of white, progressive allies who see our experience as a vehicle for their political gain,” the officials wrote.

The response from Black leaders to an anonymous email highlights how the high-profile U.S. Senate race is playing out both in public and through back channels as the race enters the critical homestretch and both Markey and Kennedy and their supporters seek any kind of edge they can get.

It was signed by a group that included Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer, city councilors from Springfield, Everett, Worcester and Randolph, former Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson and Boston organizer Monica Cannon-Grant. They suggested the email was part of a pattern of unfair attacks from supporters of Markey against Kennedy and his supporters online.

Bedell, who uses the alias @617acab on Twitter and emailed from a Google address with the same handle, ran against and lost to Rep. Elizabeth Malia in 2016. His Twitter account has been consistently critical of Kennedy.

The Black leaders also mentioned an article written in The Nation questioning the record of Kennedy surrogate and Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, who is Black, and “online trolls” who targeted a group of young elected officials of color who had recorded a video for Kennedy.

Their letter, like Bedell’s July 14 email, was sent to Democratic town, city and ward committees around the state. A copy of it was subsequently obtained by the News Service.

“We hope that you will put more value in our opinion of Joe Kennedy because we know him and we trust him – and because we offer the lived experience of being Black in Massachusetts and America today. And we ask that you call on Senator Markey to disavow Mr. Bedell and his divisive and dishonest effort,” they wrote.

Asked about Bedell’s email, Markey’s campaign manager John Walsh said he did not know Bedell and that he had nothing to do with the campaign. As for the content of the email, Walsh echoed the senator who during a debate on Sunday night said he thought it was fair for Kennedy to have to answer questions about his ties to the Kappa Alpha, but followed up by saying, “We’re not going to engage that issue.”

Walsh also suggested that Kennedy’s decision with his college fraternity brothers to disaffliate last summer looked like part of a pattern of Kennedy trying to clean up his record and shore up his progressive bonafides, including his embrace of marijuana legalization and Medicare for All.

Kennedy in recent days has gone after Markey for a vote he took on immigrant detention beds and a report in the Boston Globe that the long-time member of Congress spends the least amount of time of anyone in the delegation at home in Massachusetts. Markey’s campaign has responded by suggesting that Kennedy’s campaign is growing desperate as his early lead in polling and fundraising has evaporated, and by defending Markey’s record on immigration and other issues.

But Kennedy has also been a target, particularly behind the scenes. A well-known environmental activist shared another letter sent over this past weekend addressed to “Fellow Progressive” attacking Kennedy for his stock holdings and earnings from a family trust.

The letter was sent by Scott Gilman of Sunrise Boston and Shannon Jackson, who was the New Hampshire director for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. SUnrise Boston has endorsed Markey.

“As for fresh ideas, Congressman Kennedy has been in Congress for eight years…and we’re still waiting,” Gilman and Jackson wrote. “He complains about the failed politics of the past fifty years. Who is he speaking about? Ted Kennedy was in Washington for 47 years, Patrick Kennedy for 16 years, Joe Kennedy II for 12 years, Joe Kennedy III for 8 years. They were our leaders for the past 50 years, and we respected them all.”

Bedell did not know about the response from elected officials to his email when contacted by the News Service, but replied with a list of more than 28 questions he still had about Kennedy’s ties to Kappa Alpha. Asked about Bedell’s email, Kennedy’s campaign said the response from Spicer and other leaders spoke for itself.

“Kennedy’s surrogates’ response to my letter is an attempt to mislead the recipients, gloss his involvement, bully and intimidate me and hide the candidate like he hid behind his frat brothers.  Instead, they should join me in seeking the truth and not allow themselves to be used to perpetuate Kennedy’s white privilege of unaccountability and secrecy,” he wrote.

Bedell described his email to party leaders as an act of “anti-racism.”

He also started a online petition on Change.org calling on Kennedy to drop out of the race.

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