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How Joe Made his Son President

“Politics is like war. It takes three things to win….. The first is money and the second is money and the third is money.” – Joe Kane (Kennedy’s friend)

JFK’s First Campaign

The following are excerpts from :
The Sins of the Father – by Ronald Kessler
The Kennedy Men: Three Generations of Sex, Scandal, and Secrets – by Nellie Bly

Having tried and failed, Joe Kennedy knew he could never become president, but his sons could. He quenched his thirst for power through them.

Joe had hoped that his eldest son, Joe Jr would fulfill his dream. That dream ended in August 1944 when Joe Jr, a Navy pilot, was killed after volunteering for a dangerous secret bombing mission. Columnist and family friend Arthur Krock was convinced that the reason Joe Jr had volunteered for such a dangerous mission was to compensate for his father’s reputation as a coward.

Joseph P. Kennedy

Joseph P. Kennedy

In Palm Beach during Christmas of 1944, Joe gave his son Jack the orders: He was to take Joe Jr’s place and enter politics. In 1957, Jack described the event, telling a reporter: “It was like being drafted. My father wanted his eldest son in politics. ‘Wanted’ isn’t the right word. He demanded it.”

Joe would later brag that “I got Jack into politics. I told him that Joe Jr was deceased and that it was therefore his responsibility to run for Congress.”

In 1946, Joe Kennedy decided that the eleventh congressional district of Massachusetts, with it’s high concentration of Catholic voters, would be the perfect launching pad for his son Jack’s political career. There was only one problem: James Michael Curley, the former mayor of Boston and governor of Massachusetts, occupied the seat. Curley, however, was in danger of being indicted for mail fraud, and Joe decided that what the man needed most was some money.

“Curley knew he was in trouble with the feds over the mail fraud rap,” recalled Kennedy’s friend Joe Kane. “The ambassador paid him to get out of his congressional seat……Curley figured that he might need the money.”

Joe paid Curley $12,000 through his bag man Joe Timilty. He promised additional campaign help if Curley chose to run again for mayor of Boston in the 1946 election, which Curley did. After being elected, Curley was sent to prison for mail fraud. He continued to serve from prison.

To Joe, this was standard operating procedure, recalled Kane. “Everything he got, he bought and paid for. And politics is like war. It takes three things to win. The first is money and the second is money and the third is money.”

On April 25, 1946, Jack Kennedy announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination to Congress. The next month, Joe founded the Joseph P Kennedy Jr Foundation which began furiously pumping money into Catholic institutions in Jack’s adopted district. The timing was not a coincidence, and led one Massachusetts congressman to describe the gifts as “political currency.”

Joe’s main job now became running his son’s campaign. In effect, he was the candidate, devising campaign strategy and making every financial and policy decision. To conceal his own role and the extent of Jack’s financing, Joe paid for everything clandestinely and in cash.

David Powers, who ran Jack’s Charlestown headquarters described how Joe’s aide would meet him “at the campaign’s central headquarters, and then lead me into the men’s room, where, putting a dime into the slot, he would take me into a closed toilet stall. Then, with no one able to watch us, he would hand me the cash, saying, ‘You can never be too careful in politics about handing over money.”

Joe also arranged for Jack to receive a salary from the Maine and New Hampshire Theaters Company, which he owned. Joe could then deduct it as a business expense. In addition, two of Joe’s theater employees took care of all the campaign expenses. For example, if Jack needed a rental car, he simply charged it to Joe’s theater company.

John (Jack) Kennedy

John Kennedy

Jack’s opponent in the primary election was a legitimate politician named Joe Russo. To insure that Jack won the primary campaign, Joe Kennedy paid Joseph Russo, a janitor, to also enter the race. This effectively confused the voters, and split the votes for Joe Russo.

Russo the janitor recalled how Joe’s friend Joseph Timilty and another man had visited him one day and asked him to run. In return, Russo said, “They offered me favors. Whatever I wanted.” In fact, he said later, he wound up getting very little – occasional payments of $50 in cash.

Even the aunt of the real candidate voted for the janitor, recalled Joseph A Russo, the real candidate’s son. “They didn’t leave anything unturned,” he said. His father claimed that Kennedy’s people had also arranged for other bogus candidates to “run in other areas to break up the Irish vote, or some other vote. They played for keeps.”

After Jack won the Democratic primary, Joe sold Somerset Importers Inc, freeing $8 million to help Jack in his campaign and insuring that his liquor holdings would not become an issue.

Just as he had done with the rent for Jack’s campaign offices, Joe paid cash for Jack’s advertising. John T Galvin, who was in charge of the advertising, recalled that “It was handled so that very few people knew…..There was a campaign law that limited campaign contributions. It didn’t affect us very much.”

Joe also received crucial support from his friends in the media. For example, William Randolph Hearst, who owned the Boston American newspaper, had one of his reporters check in at Jack’s headquarters every day. No other candidate got such special attention. Joe also got Hearst to ignore Jack’s opponent Michael Neville, the mayor of Cambridge, and the paper would not accept his advertising.


Joe spent $300,000 on Jack’s first campaign, according to House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill, equivalent to $2.2 million today. O’Neill said that the sum was six times what he himself spent in the same district during a tough race six years later. In O’Neill’s view, Joe was the “real force” behind the Kennedys.

“Joe Kennedy was an ongoing factor in Massachusetts politics,” O’Neill said. “Every time a Democrat ran for governor, he would go down to see Joe, who would always send him home with a briefcase full of cash.”

On November 5, 1946, Jack Kennedy was elected to Congress. Seven days later, he filed a report with the Massachusetts secretary of state certifying that no money had been collected for, or had been spent on his campaign.