Well, "they" apparently did, and whoever the perpetrators are, they can expect to hear soon from Kennedy, 37. As senior project attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a privately funded advocacy group in Manhattan, the second son of Robert Kennedy is carrying on his father's tradition of crusading against the powerful. "I was 14 when my father died," says Bobby. "I miss everything about him. He taught us that we shouldn't be people of success, we should be people of values, because that was the only thing that endured." Now in his sixth year on the job, Kennedy has filed more than 50 lawsuits and is overseeing 17 cases. "We sue a lot of bad guys who are just bad all the way through," he says, grinning. "Those are the funnest ones to sue."
Kennedy's most recent victory came last month when a federal appeals court upheld a suit, filed for the Hudson River Fishermen's Association, that charged New York City with violating the Clean Water Act by pumping polluted river water into its reservoirs during droughts in 1985 and 1989. In treating the river water with chemicals to make it suit able for drinking, Kennedy alleged, the city poisoned millions of fish. For that offense the Big Apple could now face fines of up to $4 million. Kennedy won the respect of his adversary in the case, Robin Levine, an attorney for the City of New York. "Obviously he looks like a Kennedy, he talks like a Kennedy, but he doesn't hold it over you," she says. "He has a certain aura that pulls people in, but he knows what he's talking about, and he really believes in the issues."
In private, Bobby Jr., the third of Robert and Ethel Kennedy's 11 children, remains equally committed to a family that clings together tenaciously. The walls of his six-bedroom colonial home in Mount Kisco, N.Y., are covered with photographs of his celebrated relatives. The phone rings constantly with calls from one or another of his siblings or cousins. On one recent afternoon he was on the line with cousins Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, JFK Jr. and Chris Lawford.
Yet even in this sprawling clan, Bobby Jr. holds a special distinction: He was always the family naturalist, exhibiting an affinity for all creatures that run, crawl, swim, slither, hop or fly. As a small boy he once boarded a plane from Washington, D.C., to New York City bearing a sack of pet snakes, all of which escaped in mid-flight. While passengers panicked, young Bobby was crawling under seats trying to retrieve his slippery cargo. He says it was his father who nurtured his love of animals: "I was always bringing them home. He helped me build cages. When I was 11, he gave me my first red-tailed hawks."
Like his father, Bobby Jr. graduated from Harvard and the University of Virginia Law School. He served 18 months as a New York County assistant DA until 1984, then moved upstate to the Hudson Valley. As staff attorney for the Hudson River-keeper/Hudson River Fishermen's Association, he says, "My first project was walking from the headwaters of Quassaic Creek in Newburgh, N.Y., up to its confluence with the Hudson. I photographed, gathered samplings, documented 25 polluters and brought lawsuits against all of them." He settled all of them favorably out of court. "He's a born litigator," says John Cronin, head of the Hudson River-keeper project. "He can make highly technical issues that are crucial to a case very, very clear."
Kennedy returned to school at New York's Pace University in 1987 to earn a master's in environmental law (he now teaches a course there five days a week). His wife, Emily, 31, is a practicing criminal defense lawyer in Manhattan; they met while both attended the U of Virginia Law School. Married nine years ago, they are now parents to Robert Francis III, 6, and Kathleen, 3, called Kick, after Bobby's aunt who was killed in a plane crash in 1948. Their 11-acre forested estate harbors a menagerie of creatures, including two dogs, two Harris's hawks, two owls, four geese, a golden pheasant, an iguana, lots of ducks and at least one salamander. Kennedy has both federal and slate licenses as a wildlife rehabilitator. With the help of an Ecuadorian nanny, the Kennedys lead a regimented home life. "Emily and I go out every Wednesday night. No matter what, we have a date," he says. "Then we spend two nights a week at home with the kids. On Tuesday night I baby-sit and she goes out. On Monday night I go out and she baby-sits."
In keeping with his reverence for a disciplined routine, Kennedy rises at 6 A.M., feeds his animals and runs three miles before helping Emily get the children ready for school. He reflects on the decade of the '80s with some sorrow. "Everybody basically has an empty hole inside of them," he says, "that they try to fill with money, drugs, alcohol, power—and none of the material stuff works." While he does not entirely rule out future political ambitions, for the moment he is comfortable defending the environment. "I like being part of the world," he says. "I don't feel repressed by living in the light of the family name—good or bad. Yeah, there are responsibilities attached to it, [but] it is not something unpleasant. It keeps me focused."
VICKI SHEFF in Mount Kisco
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