Jimmy Carter was not the only U.S. politician in the spotlight last week. Senator Edward Kennedy, potentially Carter's chief rival for the Democratic nomination for president next year,* also felt the hot glare of publicity. It was the 10th anniversary of the accident on Chappaquiddick Island in which Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in a car that Kennedy had driven off a bridge. Confronting head-on the lingering doubts about his behavior that night (he fled the scene and did not report the accident until next morning), Kennedy agreed last week to his first interviews on the subject in the past five years.
These shed no new light on the events that July night. Kennedy denied once again suggestions that he delayed reporting the accident while a cover-up story was concocted (“Absolutely not," he told The New York Times). As in the past, he did not
*A CBS-New York Times poll last week showed 53 percent of Democrats in the U.S. prefer Kennedy as their presidential candidate. Carter was supported by lfl per cent and California Governor Jerry Brown by just seven per cent.
seek to shift the blame (“I bear full responsibility," he told NBC. “I acknowledge that many of the actions that I was involved in that night were irresponsible.”) But he pleaded for understanding and asked people not to judge him on the basis of Chappaquiddick alone but to consider his 17year record in the Senate as well.
It was an effective performance. But some people’s doubts will be hard to dispel. In another interview with the Times, Kopechne’s parents said they still don’t believe they know “the whole story." And on the morning of the anniversary of her death, a group calling itself the Mary Jo Kopechne Memorial Society distributed leaflets at the National Press Building in Washington, accusing Kennedy of continu-
ing to “cover up exactly what happened” that night. The group, which spokesman Frank Fusco says numbers "about a dozen” members, wants a full inquiry into the accident.
A cbs-Times poll released last week showed 80 per cent of Americans still recall Chappaquiddick. But only 23 per cent of these people said they were “less likely to vote” for Kennedy for president as a result of it. And many of them were Republicans who probably wouldn't vote for Kennedy in any event.
The question remains whether Kennedy’s candidacy for president—and the accompanying press scrutiny—would awaken new interest and seriously damage his chances. Some political observers think the issue would go away after Kennedy’s first big primary win. Others believe it would stick with Kennedy right through to election day and wreck him in the privacy of the polling booth. But, first, Kennedy must decide to run for the presidency. His decision to grant interviews on the subject of Chappaquiddick, which surely must be painful for him, is a sign that, at the very least, he is giving it some thought. But when the question was put to him directly yet again last week, his answer remained ambiguous. He is not interested in the job—“at this time.” Ian Urquhart
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