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Ted Kennedy Jr. speaks at the Democratic Town Committee meeting held at Zandri Stillwood's Inn on Wednesday night. | (Andrew Ragali/Record-Journal Staff)

Ted Kennedy Jr. backs Zandri’s campaign

WALLINGFORD — It’s not often a candidate in a local election can say they have the support of a Kennedy, said Town Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat opposing longtime incumbent William W. Dickinson Jr. in this year’s mayoral race.

Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy Jr. stopped by Zandri’s Stillwood Inn last night to speak at the Democratic Town Committee meeting. Kennedy, whose father was the longtime Massachusetts senator Edward M. Kennedy Sr., is a Branford resident.

“Jason is someone I know is going to bring the kind of energy, new ideas and enthusiasm needed at Town Hall,” Kennedy said while enthusiastically addressing a large crowd. “I know the committee will do everything possible to get Jason voted in this November.”

Kennedy’s son, Teddy, is a student at Choate Rosemary Hall and attended the event with the school’s Young Democrats Club. Kennedy attended Wesleyan University before meeting his wife of 20 years, Kiki, while studying at Yale University. As Kennedy spoke about his wife’s contributions to environmental issues in the state, she walked into the room, eliciting a loud applause from the crowd. Kennedy attended law school at the University of Connecticut, and now works as a lawyer in New Haven, where he advocates for the rights of people with disabilities. At 12 years old, Kennedy was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, causing him to lose a leg.

“Losing my leg was really a defining moment in my life,” Kennedy said. The loss provided purpose and meaning to his life, and motivated him to work toward his current profession. Of course, politics are not out of the picture, Kennedy said.

“I love politics,” he said. “... It’s something that I’m open to down the road.”

Kennedy covered a myriad of state and national issues while speaking for about 40 minutes. He spoke of health care reform, respect for the middle class, gay marriage, abortion and education. While at some points he criticized Republican efforts, he relayed lessons from his father that both Democrats and Republicans deserve respect.

“If you can’t see and respect another point of view, you shouldn’t run for office,” Kennedy said.

Republican Town Committee Chairman Bob Prentice said Wednesday that it’s “not really unusual” for town committees to have esteemed guests during election season. Prentice didn’t know the circumstances of Kennedy’s visit. Asked if he thought Democrats were using Kennedy’s name to bolster Zandri’s run, Prentice said, “It depends on why he’s here.”

Politicians often kick off their campaigns by meeting with town committees, he said. This was not the case Wednesday night. Asked if Kennedy was brought in to aid in Zandri’s campaign, Democratic Town Committee Chairman Vinny Avallone said it was “certainly not the purpose.”

“But I certainly do think it will energize the base,” Avallone said. “We’re hoping there will be some bounce.”

Avallone said he met Kennedy through his assistance campaigning for U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy. Kennedy attended a Democratic Town Committee meeting in Meriden last October in support of Murphy’s campaign. An aide of Murphy’s called Avallone to thank him for his service in campaigning for Murphy, and while doing so, invited him to meet Kennedy. The two spoke on the phone a few months ago and planned last night’s event, Avallone said.

“When have we been able to say this?” Zandri asked. “We have a Kennedy. That’s our American royalty.”

While speaking, Kennedy applauded campaign volunteers and other candidates and their work supporting the Democratic Party.

“We’re going to be with you in November,” Kennedy said. (203) 317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz

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