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Patrick Kennedy to Leave Congress

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If you needed another sign of the shifting political landscape, try this: come 2011, the United States Congress will not include a Kennedy among its membership for the first time in 64 years. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., announced today that he would not seek re-election.

Since the death of his father, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the younger Kennedy appears to have done some soul-searching, announcing today that he was taking his life in "a new direction."

Patrick Kennedy, like his late father, is both an endearing and combative public figure, and one who has fought a rather public battle with substance abuse. He's used his own difficulties to highlight the issue of mental illness as a public health concern, most notably during a press conference he called before entering a rehab on the heels of a car accident he had while under the influence.

But unlike most pols, Kennedy was frank about the contours of his addiction. From a USA Today report:

"I simply do not remember getting out of bed, being pulled over by the police, or being cited for three driving infractions," he said.

More recently, Kennedy stepped beyond the normal boundaries of his family's relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, pulling the veil off an advisory he received from his local bishop, who asked him to refrain from receiving Communion because of his pro-choice politics.

Kennedy made the revelation on the 46th anniversary of the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, and caught the bishop blind-sided.

From a November 23rd CNN report:

Tobin, in a statement issued in response to the Kennedy interview, said his advice to the congressman was "pastoral and confidential," and he was surprised that Kennedy chose to discuss it publicly.

"I am disappointed that the congressman would make public my request of nearly three years ago that sought to provide solely for his spiritual well-being," he said.

Patrick Kennedy has never struck me as a natural politician. He's just too real. But while he may not be the smoothest pol, there's an underlying ferocity behind his soft demeanor.

May it serve him well as his life takes the new direction.