Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

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Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
RFKJr Headshot.jpg
Kennedy in October 2014
Born Robert Francis Kennedy, Jr.
(1954-01-17) January 17, 1954 (age 65)
Washington, D.C., United States
Nationality American
Occupation Radio Host, Attorney, Environmental Activist
Political party Democratic
  • Emily Ruth Black (m. 1982–94)
  • Mary Kathleen Richardson (m. 1994–2012)
  • Cheryl Hines (m. 2014)
  • Robert Francis Kennedy III
  • Kathleen Alexandra Kennedy
  • Conor Richardson Kennedy
  • Kyra LeMoyne Kennedy
  • William Finbar Kennedy
  • Aiden Caohman Vieques Kennedy

Robert Francis Kennedy, Jr. (born January 17, 1954) is an American radio host, environmental activist, author and attorney specializing in environmental law. An Irish American, he is a son of Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy, the United States Senator for New York and the 64th U.S. Attorney General. He is the nephew of U.S. President John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy. Kennedy is President of the Board of Waterkeeper Alliance, a non-profit focused on grass-roots efforts to protect and enhance waterways worldwide. He currently co-hosts Ring of Fire, a nationally syndicated American radio program. Kennedy has written three political books and two children's books. Kennedy has several times said he was considering running for elective office in the state of New York, but to date he has decided against running for office. In August 2014, Kennedy married actress Cheryl Hines, his third wife. Kennedy is an avid white-water rafter and has a longstanding interest in environmental issues related to water resources, water pollution and the Hudson River.

Early life

Kennedy was born in Washington, D.C. He is the third of eleven children born to Senator Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy, Sr., and socialite Ethel Skakel Kennedy, and a nephew of World War II casualty Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy, Jr., President John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy, and longtime Senator Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy. Kennedy was 9 years old when his uncle John Kennedy was assassinated while serving as President. Kennedy remembered crying with his father upon seeing him after hearing of his uncle's assassination. He had been informed by his mother of President Kennedy's death.[1] He was 14 years old when his father was assassinated while running for President in the 1968 election. He spoke and read excerpts from his father's speeches at the mass commemorating his death at Arlington National Cemetery.[2][3] Following his father's death, Kennedy had difficulty coping and got in trouble at home and with the law, getting arrested for loitering and marijuana possession.[4] At fifteen, Kennedy was expelled from Millbrook School in New York state because of his behavior and poor grades.[5]

After obtaining his high school diploma from Pomfret School in Connecticut, Kennedy continued his education at Harvard University and the London School of Economics, graduating from Harvard College in 1976 with a Bachelor of Arts in American History and Literature. He then obtained a J.D. from the University of Virginia and a Master of Laws degree from Pace University.[6]

Legal career

In 1983, Kennedy was hired by New York County District Attorney and longtime family friend Robert M. Morgenthau to be an office assistant.[7] In July 1983 after his second attempt Kennedy passed the bar examination in the State of New York.[8] Less than a year later he was disbarred and fired[9] from the District Attorney's office for drug abuse before later being readmitted to the bar in 1985.[10][11]

In September 1983 Kennedy was charged with heroin possession in South Dakota when he became ill in the lavatory of an airplane that stopped in Rapid City, South Dakota.[12] In February 1984 Kennedy pleaded guilty to a felony charge of possessing heroin.[8] Kennedy was sentenced to community service after rehab.[13][14]

In 1984, Kennedy joined the Riverkeeper organization to satisfy the 1,500 hours community service to which he was sentenced. Riverkeeper was founded in 1966 by a group of fishermen and residents from New York.[15] He worked with the group to sue alleged polluters of the Hudson River. After his 1,500 hours were complete, the group hired Kennedy as its chief attorney.[16] While at Riverkeeper, Kennedy hired William Wegner, a falconry friend who had pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges of smuggling bird eggs from Australia in contravention of the laws of Australia and the United States. Robert Boyle, NY Riverkeeper's founder and former president, fired Wegner but Kennedy re-hired him. Eight members of the Riverkeeper board walked out of the board meeting in protest of Kennedy's actions and they resigned from the board.[17]

Kennedy also founded and is the current chairman of the umbrella organization Waterkeeper Alliance,[18] which connects and supports local waterkeeper groups. Today there are 191 waterkeeper programs worldwide operating under the trademarked "Riverkeeper", "Lakekeeper", "Baykeeper", or "Coastkeeper" names.[19]

Since 1987 Kennedy has served as a Clinical Professor of Environmental Law and co-director of the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic[20] at Pace University School of Law. The clinic allows second- and third-year law students to try cases against alleged Hudson River polluters. Kennedy also serves as a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council,[21] a non-profit organization based in New York which works to expand environmental laws and restrict land use.


Environmental activism

In 1998, Kennedy, Chris Bartle and John Hoving created a bottled-water company that donates all of its profits to Waterkeeper Alliance.[22] They named their Manhattan-based company Tear of the Clouds LLC., after the lake of the same name, the source of the Hudson River in the Adirondack Mountains.[23] Their product is bottled under the name Keeper Springs.[24] In 1999, Kennedy accused Rudy Giuliani, then Mayor of New York City, of putting his political ambitions above the protection of New York City's drinking water by failing to enforce a 1997 watershed agreement to regulate development around reservoirs which provided drinking water to the city. Kennedy insisted New York City's Department of Environmental Protection was becoming "an agent of destruction in the New York City's watershed."[25]

In April 2001, Kennedy was arrested for trespassing at Camp Garcia, the United States Navy training facility on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Kennedy and others were protesting the use of a section of the island for training. The trespassing incident forced the suspension of live-fire exercises for almost 3 hours. Despite the best efforts of his counsel, former Governor of New York Mario Cuomo, on July 18, 2001, Kennedy was sentenced to 30 days in jail by Judge Hector Laffitte.[26][27] In February 2013, while protesting the Keystone Pipeline, Kennedy was arrested for blocking a thoroughfare in front of the White House during a protest. Kennedy's son Conor was also arrested.[28]

In a December 16, 2005, editorial for The New York Times, Kennedy argued, "As an environmentalist, I support wind power, including wind power on the high seas. I am also involved in siting wind farms in appropriate landscapes, of which there are many. But I do believe that some places should be off limits to any sort of industrial development. I wouldn't build a wind farm in Yosemite National Park. Nor would I build one on Nantucket Sound, which is exactly what the company Energy Management is trying to do with its Cape Wind project."[29] This position angered some environmentalists.[30]

In a 2005 book by conservative writer Peter Schweizer, it was claimed that Kennedy allegedly received royalty payments from two family-owned oil drilling companies, and that he used private jets while lecturing about the perils of global warming.[31]

On July 7, 2007, Kennedy appeared in New Jersey at the Live Earth event. His speech challenged the public to question the implied position of the energy industry that economic and environmental policies are mutually exclusive. He referred to several media personalities (Glenn Beck, John Stossel, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh among them) as "flat-Earthers", and "traitors".[32] Kennedy's speech concludes with the statement "And I will see all of you on the barricades." He is a self-described pro-life supporter on the issue of abortion.[33] Kennedy also sits on the board of directors of the Food Allergy Initiative.[34]

In 2009, Kennedy collaborated on an article titled, "The Energy of Bobby Kennedy, Jr."[35] for the debut summer issue of Above magazine, an environmentally-themed magazine based in London.

In May 2010, Kennedy was named one of's "Heroes for the Planet" for his success in helping Riverkeeper to restore the Hudson River.[36]

In June 2011, Kennedy appeared at select screenings of The Last Mountain produced by Bill Haney, and co-written by Haney and Peter Rhodes. The film depicts a battle in Appalachia between a local community and a large fossil fuel company over coal exploration. In October 2012, Kennedy gave a phone interview with Politico, where he called on environmentalists to direct their dissatisfaction towards the U.S. Congress, rather than President Obama. Kennedy reasoned that Obama "didn't deliver" due to having a U.S. Congress "like we haven’t seen before in American history". Kennedy still wanted climate change to receive more attention in the 2012 presidential election, which was only a month away.[37]

On October 3, 2013, Kennedy voiced his belief that weighing economic concerns against environmental protection is a "false choice" during a speech at the Franklin and Marshall College.[38]

Kennedy's early environmental work is featured in two films by director Les Guthman: The Hudson Riverkeepers[39] and The Waterkeepers.[40] In September 2014, Kennedy voiced his wish that there would be a law which punished skeptics and deniers during an interview with Climate Depot during New York City's People's Climate March. He also accused politicians who failed to act on climate change policy as serving their own special interests. “Those guys are doing the Koch Brothers' bidding and are against all the evidence of the rational mind, saying global warming does not exist,” Kennedy said. “They are contemptible human beings.” He accused the Koch Brothers of "polluting our atmosphere" and confirmed that he believed they were treasonous and should be imprisoned.[41] On the Koch Brothers, Kennedy further stated: "The Koch brothers have all the money. They’re putting $300 million this year into their efforts to stop the climate bill. And the only thing we have in our power is people power, and that’s why need to put this demonstration on the street."[42] In October 2014, Kennedy endorsed Eric Schneiderman for re-election as Attorney General of the State of New York, citing his record on the environment. Kennedy expressed optimism over partnering with Schneiderman and his second term: "I look forward to partnering with Eric over the next four years on this important work, and I’m proud to endorse him for re-election.” Kennedy's endorsement was criticized by a spokeswoman of John Cahill, the Republican candidate running against Schneiderman.[43]

In February 2015 Kennedy was among "notable" alumni of Harvard University including Natalie Portman, Darren Aronofsky and Susan Faludi who wrote an open letter to Harvard University demanding that it divest coal, gas, and oil companies from its $35.9 billion endowment.

Those students have done a remarkable job in garnering overwhelming student support for divestment, and the faculty too have delivered a strong message. But so far Harvard has not just refused to divest, they've doubled down by announcing the decision to buy stock in some of the dirtiest energy companies on the planet.

— Open letter to Harvard university from notable alumni, 2014, [44]

Views on autism and vaccines

Kennedy is an outspoken opponent of the inclusion of the mercury-based preservative thimerosal in vaccines. In June 2005, Kennedy authored an article in Rolling Stone and entitled "Deadly Immunity", alleging a government conspiracy to cover up connections between the vaccine preservative thimerosal and childhood autism.[45] The article contained a number of factual errors, leading to issue five corrections and ultimately to retract the article completely on January 16, 2011. The retraction was motivated by accumulating evidence of errors and scientific fraud underlying the vaccine-autism claim.[46] Previous to this retraction, sometime in 2010, Rolling Stone had inadvertently broken the link to Kennedy's article during a website redesign, but never considered retracting the story.[45][47] The article is still posted on Kennedy’s website.[48]

In April 2015, Kennedy promoted a film, Trace Amounts, which links autism to vaccinations. Kennedy discussed issues on April 24's Real Time with Bill Maher. At a screening in Sacramento, California, Kennedy described the alleged incidents of vaccinations causing autism as a holocaust.[49]

Views on 2004 and 2008 Presidential elections

Kennedy during a 2007 speech in Urbana, Illinois

Kennedy endorsed John Kerry in the 2004 American presidential election, noting his strong environmental record, while also criticizing George W. Bush.[50] In an article in the June 5, 2006, issue of Rolling Stone, titled "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?",[51] Kennedy comes to the conclusion that the Republican Party stole the 2004 American presidential election. Farhad Manjoo, Technology staff writer for, has criticized Kennedy's interpretation and methodology.[52] Kennedy responded to Manjoo's criticisms in detail.[53]

In late 2007, Kennedy[54] and his sisters Kerry and Kathleen[55] announced that they would be endorsing Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In response to subsequent endorsements by Caroline Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, and Patrick J. Kennedy for Barack Obama, Robert Jr., Kerry, and Kathleen wrote in a January 29, 2008, editorial:

"By now you may have read or heard that our cousin, Caroline Kennedy, and our uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, have come out in favor of Sen. Barack Obama. We, however, are supporting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton because we believe that she is the strongest candidate for our party and our country."[56]

Kennedy was also featured in an ad campaign for Clinton alongside the grandson of Cesar Chavez.[57] In October, 2008, on the eTown radio program where he received their E-chievement Award and was interviewed, he cited the need to elect Barack Obama.[58]

Views on 2012 Presidential election

Kennedy supported the reelection of Barack Obama. Both Obama and Mitt Romney aimed to make the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil by continued development of domestic energy resources. Kennedy, however, believed President Obama's and Romney's plans were different in important ways. He thought Romney was primarily interested in helping his allies in the traditional energy industry.[59]

Views on JFK assassination and the Warren Commission

On the evening of January 11, 2013, Charlie Rose interviewed Robert Kennedy Jr. and his sister Rory in Dallas at the Winspear Opera House. This was part of Mayor Mike Rawlings hand chosen committee’s year long program of celebrating the life and presidency of John F. Kennedy. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said that he was convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald was not solely responsible for the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy; and said his father Robert Kennedy was "fairly convinced" that others besides Oswald were involved in his brother's assassination and privately believed the Warren Commission report was a "shoddy piece of craftsmanship."[60] Kennedy was 9 years old when President Kennedy was assassinated and 14 years old when Robert Kennedy was assassinated.

Political aspirations

Kennedy first considered running for political office in 2000, when he considered running for United States Senator in New York.[61] After deciding not to run in that election, he then considered running in 2005 for Attorney General. With the possibility of a matchup against his then brother-in-law Andrew Cuomo generating media interest, Kennedy again decided not to run, despite being considered the frontrunner if he were to run.[62]

In a January 2007 interview in O: The Oprah Magazine, Kennedy said he would consider running for the potentially open seat of United States Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, if she were to win the 2008 Presidential election.[63] RFK Jr.'s father was elected to the same seat in 1964, and held it for 41 months (3.4 years), until his untimely death. Clinton ultimately did not win the election, but was instead tapped for Secretary of State. Kennedy announced on December 2, 2008, that he did not wish to be appointed to the U.S. Senate, feeling it would take too much time away from his family.[64]

Media work

Kennedy co-hosts Ring of Fire, which was previously on Air America Radio (now defunct), with Mike Papantonio,[65] even though Kennedy suffers from spasmodic dysphonia,[66] a disorder which makes speech difficult, and causes the voice to sound quavery. "Ring of Fire" is now independently syndicated.

Kennedy has written two books and several articles on environmental issues. His articles have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, The Nation, Outside magazine, and The Village Voice.


Political books

Children's books

Marriage and family

Kennedy has been married three times.

He married Emily Ruth Black on April 3, 1982.[67] They had two children: Robert Francis Kennedy III (born 1984) and Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy (born April 13, 1988).[68] The couple divorced on March 25, 1994.[69]

On April 15, 1994, three weeks after divorcing Emily, Kennedy wed Mary Kathleen Richardson aboard a research vessel along the Hudson River.[70] They had four children: Conor Richardson Kennedy (born 1994), Kyra LeMoyne Kennedy (born 1995), William Finbar "Finn" Kennedy (born 1997),[71] and Aiden Caohman Vieques Kennedy (born 2001). On May 12, 2010, Kennedy filed for divorce from Mary; three days later she was charged with drunken driving.[72] On May 16, 2012, Mary was found dead in a building on the grounds of her Mount Kisco, New York, home; the death was ruled by the Westchester County medical examiner to be suicide due to asphyxiation from hanging.[73][74][75]

Kennedy and actress-director Cheryl Hines announced their engagement in late April 2014, and were married on August 2, 2014, at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Massachusetts.[76]

Personal life

In 1983, Kennedy was arrested in a Rapid City, South Dakota, airport for heroin possession. A search of his carry-on bag uncovered 182 milligrams (0.0064 oz) of the drug.[14] Upon entering a plea of guilty, Kennedy, then 29 years old, was sentenced to two years probation, periodic tests for drug use, treatment by joining Narcotics Anonymous, and 1,500 hours of community service by Presiding Judge Marshall P. Young.[14]

In September 2013, The New York Post released excerpts from Kennedy's diary from 2001, which was stolen, in which Kennedy detailed multiple affairs,[77] and penned his opinions about public figures, notably writing that the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton “give me the creeps,” in a July 5 entry.[78] Kennedy said the paper had printed "...excerpts from a 13-year-old diary illegally stolen from me...”.[78]

Kennedy is a licensed master falconer and former president of the New York State Falconer's Association.[79] He is also an avid whitewater rafter and has led several rafting trips in Canada and Central America.[21][80] He appeared in the IMAX documentary film Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk, riding the length of the Grand Canyon with his daughter and with anthropologist Wade Davis.

See also


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External links