August 30, 2002 - Washington Post: Mark Shriver in close race for Congress

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Mark Shriver in close race for Congress

Maryland Delegate Mark K. Shriver, son of Peace Corps Founding Director Sargent Shriver, has carried on the family tradition of service with the Choice Program he began in Baltimore in 1988. Read and comment on this story from the Washington Post on the close race he is in for Congress in Maryland's 8th Congressional District at:

Shriver Plays Down the Dynasty*

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Shriver Plays Down the Dynasty

Candidate Attributes His Political Impulse to Parents' Values

By Jo Becker

Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, August 30, 2002; Page B01

Sargent Shriver was talking about the man he calls a "miraculous creation," one hand darting into a bag of potato chips and the other stuffed in his pants pocket in much the same manner as his son, who stood a few feet away.

"That kid -- it sounds funny to say that -- he's a self-made man," Shriver said. "Sure, he came from a rich family; sure, his mother's a Kennedy. But if his name was Jones, it wouldn't matter; he'd still be where he is today."

But his name isn't Jones. Mark K. Shriver was still in the womb when his mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, learned that her brother, President John F. Kennedy, had been assassinated. To look at Mark Shriver is to gaze backward in time, the tousle of brown hair and hooded blue eyes so reminiscent of Bobby Kennedy, the pronounced jaw line and toothy grin a throwback to Jack.

It is easy to see his story as a simple tale of a straight-line ascent to a preplanned political destiny, the next generation of an iconic family come to take a turn at power. Easier still to conclude, as his political rivals would like, that his success is largely inherited rather than achieved. After all, the Kennedy name has helped Shriver, 38, at almost every juncture of his life, from starting a nonprofit program to his lucrative entry into the business world to his current campaign for Congress in Maryland's 8th District.

But to assume such an uncomplicated narrative is to ignore the way his eyebrows knot up and his mouth flattens into a grimace of protest when he is forced to discuss what he says is his least favorite subject -- the very same Kennedy political machine that he is now kicking into overdrive to lock up voters in the final days before the Sept. 10, four-way Democratic primary.

Viewed through this lens, one might see in Shriver's genetic makeup the elements of a personal struggle shared by other members of this latest generation of Kennedys: How to make ample use of the name without allowing it to overwhelm the person. One might also see the elements of a son looking to redeem the father.

Perhaps it is telling that the presidential campaign poster that greets guests in Shriver's Silver Spring headquarters is not of Jack or Bobby. It is of his father, created during the elder Shriver's derided 1976 run for president.

Despite Sargent Shriver's considerable accomplishments -- he had started the Peace Corps, run the War on Poverty, served as ambassador to France -- he was unable to shake the notion that he was a lightweight running on the family name.

Twenty-six years later, his son faces a similar problem. Mark Shriver's quick wit and preparedness at debates have allowed the two-term state delegate to avoid some of the criticism that dogs Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, his less articulate cousin, in her bid to become Maryland's next governor. He can readily cite bill numbers, but he also has a plainspoken ability to connect to audiences.

On Saddam Hussein: "An evil, evil dictator." On President Bush's environmental policies: "Deplorable." On the estate tax cuts: "That's just skewed public values."

And yet, despite Shriver's considerable name recognition and fundraising advantage, the latest independent poll shows him with only a modest lead over state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., whom voters view as more experienced. The winner will take on U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella (R) in one of the most competitive House races in the nation.

"Everyone tries to make this thing about the Kennedy dynasty, Kennedy heritage," said Mark's sister, "Dateline NBC" anchor Maria Shriver. "Mark is his own man. His heritage is our dining room table."

The Shriver vacation home on Cape Cod is set apart from the Kennedy family's Hyannis Port compound, situated down the street in an unintended symbol of a decades-old divide. Sargent Shriver angered the family by staying on in Lyndon Johnson's administration after President Kennedy's assassination, and when it came time for Shriver's presidential run, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) didn't lift a finger. "That's a different era," Mark Shriver says today.

Indeed, the senator has aided his nephew's congressional campaign, introducing him to deep-pocketed national labor leaders and, along with cousin Caroline Kennedy, taping phone calls to voters this week on Shriver's behalf. Last year, when it looked as though Van Hollen was about to receive a national environmental group's endorsement, the senator's chief of staff placed a call to the group's political director. The endorsement never happened.

But aside from the political imprimatur that the elected Kennedys give Shriver, they are bit players in understanding his political impulse. For that, Shriver points to his parents.

Though Shriver, the second youngest of five children, spent his fair share of time on the campaign trail with family members, he was raised for the most part in the midst of programs rather than elections. Summers, his mother would turn their Montgomery County home into a camp that would become the Special Olympics.

"There were no gatherings of the precinct captains. We didn't grow up in the middle of an election," said brother Bobby Shriver, contrasting his upbringing to that of some cousins. "My dad had the war on poverty; there were Head Start guys, Legal Aid guys and 150 retarded kids in the back yard."

The Shrivers worked hard and expected their kids to do the same.

"Dad was always rambling on about how he grew up in Baltimore and how he'd seen family after family of people of wealth that didn't do a goddamn thing," recalled Timothy Shriver. "He was very vigilant about that."

Family lore has it that Eunice Shriver's father once said she could have become president had she come equipped with different anatomy. From her comes the competitive spirit that has led Shriver to repeatedly blow his knee playing sports.

"I'm a big believer in 'if you can do it, then do it,' " said the woman whose two recent hospitalizations haven't stopped her from volunteering to place bedside calls to voters.

When Shriver decided to run for office in 1994, his mother was on top of every detail. "I'm not running for president, Mom," Shriver's best friend, Joe Massaro, recalls Shriver protesting. After he won a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates, she periodically checked in with then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D) to ensure that her son was making all the right moves.

That same drive to out-hustle the opponent can be seen in Shriver as he campaigns in the district that sprawls across Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Shriver could have taken the AFL-CIO endorsement for granted, given his uncle's ties to organized labor. But he also spent weeks courting rank-and-file painters and electricians, just in case.

Derrick Campbell was 15, a black kid from the inner city, when he first met Shriver, a rugby-shirted son of privilege down from Holy Cross College to volunteer at a Connecticut program to help at-risk kids. Campbell took one look and thought to himself, "Who is this white boy?"

Shriver tutored the initially sullen boy that summer and stunned Campbell by keeping in touch for years by letter and phone. Against the odds, Campbell went to college and now works on Wall Street. "Mark's for real," Campbell said. "He's not just some name on a program."

For Shriver, meeting Campbell was a turning point, bringing home a reality that informs his '60s-style social justice platform as he runs for office in one of the wealthiest congressional districts in the nation: "Poor people who don't have money and contacts get the short end of the stick."

Shriver's Jesuit schooling had taught him the value of "the contemplative in action."

"You think about what you're doing, but you also have to act," he explained. He said Campbell planted the seed, but it was a short stint as an intern in Schaefer's office that gave Shriver his path to action.

The state was shutting down its largest juvenile jail and sending many youthful offenders back to the community. Rather than using his connections to immediately run for office, as did his cousin Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.), the 23-year-old Shriver used them to start a program, setting up shop in one of Baltimore's worst slums.

The Choice Program began in 1988 with $128,000 in state and private grant money, $44,000 of which came from the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation. Wendy Royalty was an intern in Schaefer's office at the time and attended early planning meetings between Shriver and state officials. She said Shriver arrived with a source of funding but relied on state officials to develop the details of the program.

Shriver readily shares credit, offering the fact that he "struggled pretty sincerely that first year" until he managed to lure an administrator from the state university through his father's ties to the provost.

But in the brick rows of public housing of Baltimore's Cherry Hill neighborhood, his name meant nothing. He and a group of caseworkers met with juvenile delinquents three to five times a day, getting them up for school or home safely at night.

Shriver worked long hours for the better part of six years, living for a time in a rowhouse with roommate Martin O'Malley, who is now Baltimore mayor. Shriver married in 1992 and took a one-year break to earn a master's degree from Harvard before returning to the program that has since been replicated across Maryland.

"I was so impressed because here he was, this knockout young man, working in these scary neighborhoods," said former city housing official Margaret Williams.

As a congressman, Shriver said the issue that will "burn a hole in my gut" is early childhood education. "I dealt with kids at the back end," said Shriver, who now has two children himself. "This is a human rights issue."

He brought that politics of the personal to the State House. Though he resigned from Choice, he remained focused on children, pushing to improve the state's early child-care programs.

As he sat drinking coffee at his favorite diner, Shriver pointed to the waiter and described the way the man has to "shlep to two jobs and has no health care." It is from these types of personal encounters that some of his legislative initiatives have sprung.

When adoptive parents told him that they didn't receive the leave benefits given to birth parents, he pushed through a bill to fix their problem. When voters complained about the state's child support collection system, he pushed through a law to suspend the driver's licenses of scofflaws.

"Politics is a people business," he said. "That's the whole gig."

But the man who was considered a pivotal player in many of the more contentious fights in the General Assembly was not Shriver, but his chief rival. From the environment to health care, Van Hollen compiled a broader record.

Shriver supporters argue that the delegate was encumbered by a reality Van Hollen didn't face: his family name. After Shriver was elected in a campaign that avoided mention of the Kennedys, Schaefer sat Shriver down. "Follow the lead of the speaker, and don't try to be a big star," Schaefer recalled telling him. "He never tried to show off, and he had passion."

But Shriver's committee colleagues used to joke about his sometimes sporadic appearances at hearings, once waving around a photo cutout of the missing-in-action delegate's face, according to several who witnessed the gag.

Marjorie Sonnenfeldt sat on the board of the Lourie Center for Infants and Young Children with both Shriver and Van Hollen. She's supporting Van Hollen, she says, because he pushed through a $1 million grant the center needed to renovate, while Shriver rarely attended meetings. "Shriver may care deeply about early childhood development, but we didn't gain the benefit of that," she said.

If Shriver played down the Kennedy name in Annapolis, it became a welcome addition to his résumé when he ventured into the business world seven years ago. There, he found work in the telecommunications industry with the help of family friends, netting nearly $1.1 million from stock options in one endeavor.

In congressional campaign literature, Shriver quotes "my uncle" the president. But many voters need no reminder. At Richard Gordin's door in Rockville, Shriver spent several minutes earnestly talking with the undecided voter about the region's traffic problems.

But it wasn't Shriver's transportation views that stuck with Gordin the most. "It's disconcerting -- I feel like I'm seeing one of the Kennedys," Gordin said, then shrugged. "At least he has name recognition."

This is the last of four profiles of the Democratic candidates running in Maryland's 8th District.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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