Charles Laurence: Ted Kennedy ... The Senator of Sleaze





[Charles Laurence has written articles published in MailOnline and The Daily Telegraph.]

Senator Edward 'Ted' Kennedy stood for sleaze. Bloated and drunken, he used his standing in the Kennedy clan to chase vulnerable women - which brought his dream of reaching the White House to a shameful end.

He was the youngest of the four Kennedy brothers, and by far the longest lived.

Incredibly, he was in line to inherit his brother John F. Kennedy's legendary presidency, but his chances were dashed following the drowning of the pretty, young campaign assistant Mary Jo Kopechne.

Forever known as the Chappaquiddick Incident after the Massachusetts island where it took place, the scandal in 1969 broke the Kennedy grip on the White House.

A drunk Ted had been driving back from a party to the family 'compound' on Martha's Vineyard when he veered off a bridge and into a deep tidal dyke.

Mary Jo was in the back seat and, while he claimed he was just giving her a lift back to her hotel, it was widely thought that he had picked her up for sex. Kennedy swam ashore to save himself, but left Mary Jo to drown - in fact, it was even worse than that.

It was nine hours before he reported the accident. In the meantime, he walked back to his motel, complained to the manager about a noisy party, took a shower, went to sleep, ordered newspapers when he woke up and spoke to a friend and two lawyers before finally calling the police.

Divers later estimated that if he had called them immediately, they would have had time to pull out Mary Jo. She had not drowned, but had survived in an air pocket inside the car - she was asphyxiated only when the oxygen ran out several hours later.

As always, Ted used the family name to save his neck. In any other state but Massachusetts, the Kennedys' home turf, and with any other name, he would have been charged with homicide.

Instead, he escaped with a slap on the wrist: a two-year suspended sentence and the loss of his driving licence for a year. He had been allowed to plead guilty to no more than the charge of leaving the scene of an accident.

Kennedy lawyers arranged for him to pay £55,000 to the Kopechne family from his own pocket with a further £30,000 from his insurance. Mary Jo's mother later said: 'I don't think he ever said he was sorry.'

At the height of the scandal, Kennedy went on TV to explain himself in an extraordinary 13-minute address in which he denied driving drunk and rejected rumours of
'immoral conduct' with Kopechne.

He said he was haunted by 'irrational' thoughts immediately after the accident, and wondered 'whether some awful curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys'.

He said his failure to report the accident right away was 'indefensible'.

Yet the tragedy and his actions appalled millions of Americans...

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