Boston — Come 1987, there could be two Kennedys in the Massachusetts congressional delegation -- US Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and his nephew, Joseph P. Kennedy II. The younger Kennedy has his sights on the seat being vacated at term's end by US House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. It is where his famous late uncle, John F. Kennedy, began his political career nearly four decades ago.
His decision to run for congress, expected to be announced Wednesday, will end speculation concerning the political aspirations of the eldest son of the late Robert F. Kennedy.
Unlike other members of the Kennedy clan, whose backgrounds were confined largely to government service, young Joe Kennedy, as he is called, would also bring some experience in the private sector to the congressional campaign. The Citizens Energy Corporation, which he formed six years ago and still heads, has been involved in providing low-cost heating oil to the poor.
He is also experienced in political campaigning, having aided his uncle Ted in several of the senator's electoral pursuits, starting in 1970, when, as an 18-year-old, he brought both enthusiasm and energy to Senator Kennedy's reelection efforts. While the decision to run clearly is Joseph Kennedy's, there is doubtful he would make that move without the wholehearted approval of the senator, with whom he has been especially close.
Were Joe Kennedy to win the congressional seat next year, he could be in a strong position to run for his uncle's senatorial chair should Ted Kennedy choose to run for president or go into political retirement in 1988.
A Kennedy candidacy would almost surely thin the field of contenders in the Eighth Congressional District. At least nine candidates -- eight Democrats and one Republican -- have entered the race in the past six months. These include James Roosevelt Jr., grandson of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt; a state senator; and four state representatives. For a while last spring, Edward M. Kennedy Jr., the senator's 23-year-old son, seemed poised to jump in. Joseph Kennedy's interest in the seat may have s haded Edward's decision not to run.
While some of the Democrats in the race will hardly welcome the Kennedy candidacy, there will be little pouting. Instead, his potential foes can be expected to play down the formidability of his candidacy.
But with a member of the Kennedy clan running, in a state where the family has had political appeal for decades, it could become a lot harder for an opposition candidate to raise the funds needed and put together a strong organization.
Several would-be aspirants for the O'Neill seat have past political ties with Senator Kennedy which they obviously had hoped might help them even if, as expected, the senator himself remained neutral.
Democratic Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, who will be running for reelection next year, is not likely to get ensnarled in the congressional campaign, lest in the process he offend certain party members.
Similarly it is doubtful that the senator would become directly involved, unless it appeared the Kennedy family's reputation for never having lost an election in Massachusetts were in jeopardy. Joseph Kennedy, like his uncle, is a liberal. So, too, are most of the other Democrats interested in the O'Neill seat. The district, which is made up of Cambridge and five neighboring cities and towns, plus six of Boston's 22 wards, is considered to be one of the nation's most heavily liberal political turfs.
The Kennedy move into the campaign would come early enough so those who hold other elective offices and might consider the Eighth District competition too tough still could seek reelection to their current offices.