Eat & Run

This Teacher Could Continue The Kennedy Family’s Political Dynasty

In New Jersey’s southernmost district, a former history teacher is running for Congress.

Photo Courtesy of Amy Kennedy, Aaron MCcoy, Bryan Bedder, GMVozd/Getty

In Eat & Run, Bustle talks to political candidates about their relationships to food. This week, sidle up to former teacher Amy Kennedy, who's running to represent New Jersey's 2nd district.

In December 2019, Rep. Jeff Van Drew (NJ-2) blindsided Garden State politics. The U.S. House of Representatives had voted to impeach the president the night before, the Democratic primary was well underway, and Van Drew — a 30-year Democratic officeholder — switched parties, crediting the impeachment efforts as the final straw. He scheduled a media-blitz sit-down with Donald Trump and promised his “undying support” to the historically unpopular president.

Back in his district, the move forced Amy Kennedy’s hand. The fourth-generation New Jerseyan decided to run. “It was not in my plan,” says Kennedy, 41, a mother of five who’d been the education director of The Kennedy Forum, where she worked to address mental health in schools. (The nonprofit was founded by her husband, former Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy.)

New Jersey’s 2nd district, the state’s southernmost, voted for Trump in 2016 after twice supporting President Obama. In a Stockton University poll from Oct. 30, Kennedy was leading Van Drew by 1 point. If she loses, it’ll be the first time in decades without a Kennedy in Congress.

She’s an unlikely torchbearer to carry the Kennedy dynasty into the future. Having married into the family in 2011, Kennedy, née Petitgout, spent 14 years prior as a middle-school history and civics teacher, like her schoolteacher parents before her. In 2018, she and Patrick welcomed their fifth child, whose birthday is two days shy of his great-uncle's, President John F. Kennedy. If elected, she’ll join a small squad of congresswomen with young children, like Rep. Katie Porter.

For both the Kennedys and Petitgouts, food often serves as a bonding agent. She talks to Bustle about Sunday potlucks, Kennedy family Thanksgivings, and lunches in the teachers' lounge.

On her parents' influence:

“My parents were schoolteachers, and both pitched in around my house. My dad liked staples — the meat and potatoes, things like that. My mom would get more creative in the kitchen. She has a great blueberry pie, and she makes a birthday cake that’s an essential part of whatever we're celebrating.”

On her default school-day lunch:

“I’ve always liked a hot lunch. I love soup, and [it’s] easy to make. I would make a Tuscan soup that had Italian sausage, olives, tomatoes, rosemary, kale, and cannellini beans. It's really good. I still make that a lot for myself."

On celebrating with the Kennedys:

“Ethel [Kennedy] is the best hostess for Thanksgiving on Cape Cod. My parents come also. Ethel hosts, and members of the family host other meals that weekend — a stew at another person's house, or a pancake breakfast at someone else's. [And there's] always Four Seas Ice Cream, for all occasions."

On Petitgout potlucks:

“We do dinner with my [side of the] family every Sunday. There are 21 of us — my parents, my brothers and their kids, and my family. It's usually at my house, and it's always a potluck. We might do broccoli salad, [or] applesauce, which we don't have to serve hot. And then, one thing that we introduced is a fig cake, because a neighbor gave us a fig tree. But this year has changed everything.”

On pandemic adjustments:

“During this virus, just getting the basics has been challenging for a lot of families. So, we've been out with food distributions. We're seeing a lot of people really struggling. [In my house,] we're all cooking more than before [the virus]. My 12-year-old is baking all the time. She's mastered a few good recipes, so we're having chocolate chip cookies on a more regular basis than I want to admit.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.