Home>Campaigns>Robert Kennedy, Jr. enters Democratic presidential race with the backing of Jamel Holley

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a member of one of the nation's most prominent political families, is challenging Joe Biden for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination. (Photo: Kennedy24.com).

Robert Kennedy, Jr. enters Democratic presidential race with the backing of Jamel Holley

In 1975, RFK Jr. helped Peter Shapiro win a rare off-the-line primary win against a Democratic assemblyman

By David Wildstein, April 19 2023 3:54 pm

An uphill primary challenge to Joe Biden for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination being mounted by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has found one early supporter in New Jersey: former Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Roselle).

Holley was the first speaker at Kennedy’s campaign announcement in Boston today, calling Kennedy “a leader of integrity, a leader that brings compassion and a deep heartfelt caring and concern for all Americans.”

Former Assemblyman Jamel Holley speaks at the launch of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign on April 19, 2023. (Photo: Kennedy24.com).

“Bobby’s a personal friend – a big brother,” Holley said.  “I know this wasn’t an easy decision for him.  He thought it through – a sword of ice – and he came within himself, found in himself, the answer to what we all need today, which is leadership… and I cannot think of any other individual at this marked moment other than Bobby Kennedy, Jr.”

Kennedy and Holley became allies as national leaders of the anti-vaccination movement.  Holley had lobbied against a bill in the New Jersey Legislature that eliminated a religious exemption for school vaccines.   Later, Kennedy headlined a Holley fundraiser.

Two years ago, Holley gave up his Union County Assembly seat to challenge incumbent Joseph Cryan (D-Union) in the Democratic primary for State Senate.  Cryan won by a wide margin.

In this year’s June primary, Holley seeks to restart his political career and reclaim his old job as mayor of Roselle.  He’s mounting an off-the-line campaign against Mayor Donald Shaw, and many Union County Democrats say he can win.

The 69-year-old Kennedy is the scion of one of America’s most prominent political families.  His father, Robert F. Kennedy, a former U.S. Senator from New York and the U.S. Attorney General was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968 when he was assassinated at a Los Angles hotel after winning the California primary.  His uncle was John F. Kennedy.

Most of Kennedy’s siblings and cousins support Biden, including Patrick Kennedy, a former Rhode Island congressman and son of the late Ted Kennedy, who now lives in Brigantine.

“I support President Biden,” he told CNN.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, now a Biden administration official, said her brother “helped to spread dangerous misinformation over social media and is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines.”

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., center, campaigns for Democratic Assembly candidate Peter Shapiro in the Vailsburg section of Newark on June 2, 1975. (Photo: Robert Koller/David Wildstein Collection).

A USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll released today found that 14% of Biden supporters from 2020 would support Kennedy, and another 5% back another candidate, Marianne Williamson.

Kennedy played a pivotal role in a 1975 Democratic primary that changed the course of Essex County politics.  He spent time in New Jersey campaigning for his Harvard classmate, 23-year-old Peter Shapiro, who was mounting an off-the-line bid for a State Assembly seat in the 28th district.  Kennedy went door-to-door in the heavily-Irish Vailsburg section of Newark, and Shapiro ousted incumbent Rocco Neri (D-Irvington) by 183 votes.

Three years later, Shapiro upended the Essex Democratic machine by winning the election as the first county executive, and seven years later won the Democratic nomination for governor.

In 1980, Shapiro helped Ted Kennedy win the New Jersey primary in his bid to wrestle the Democratic nomination from President Jimmy Carter.

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