Nephew of JFK and friend of Bono in the running to become 'little king' of LA
Published 19/05/2014 | 02:30
In a community centre gymnasium, about 100 people have gathered to listen to a debate between four candidates running for the office of supervisor of Los Angeles County.
No one mentions that on stage is a member of America's most celebrated political dynasty. That is just the way Robert Sargent Shriver III, nephew of President John F Kennedy, prefers it.
"I don't emphasise it," Mr Shriver, known as "Bobby", laughed politely afterwards. "Look, I'm 59 years old, I did a few other things," he said.
Mr Shriver explained that he was "proud of what Jack did, and what Uncle Bobby and Uncle Teddy did". He also takes great pride in the work of his mother, the president's sister Eunice, who started the Special Olympics, and his father Sargent Shriver, who began the Peace Corps.
But it is clear that he wants to be elected on his own terms.
The fiercely contested race is for one of five seats on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which has been described as one of the most powerful elected bodies in America with a budget of $25bn (€18.25bn).
It governs 10 million people, meaning it has more voters than 42 US states, and its members are sometimes referred to as the "five little kings".
Mr Shriver's donor list reads like an Oscars red carpet line-up, including the names of Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Renee Zellweger, plus the world's third richest man Warren Buffett.
But he has cast himself as a political outsider, an entrepreneur who can "fix things". He did not go into politics until his late 40s, starting out as a newspaper reporter before becoming a lawyer.
Along with his friend Bono, he campaigned for Third World debt relief and started Product Red, through which consumers contribute to tackling Aids in Africa.
It is tempting to see Mr Shriver's run as part of a resurgence of America's most famous political family. Last year, Joseph Kennedy III (33), a grand nephew of John F Kennedy, was elected to Congress, and Caroline Kennedy, the president's daughter, became US ambassador to Japan.
But his path into politics was somewhat accidental. It started a decade ago following a disagreement with the local council in Santa Monica, where he lives, when it tried to fine residents thousands of dollars for not cutting their hedges.
"It's a very American story," said Mr Shriver, who is married to the artist Malissa Feruzzi.
"We all go down to the city council meeting, they tell us 'cool your jets', so we all walk across the street to a deli and put our names on a list. Next thing you know we have a political organisation and we're negotiating with the city.
"The city says 'stuff it', the friends say one of us has to run, and they look around the room and go 'you'. I felt emotionally connected so I ran and I won."
He went on to become mayor of Santa Monica, running as an independent and getting the most votes in the city's 120-year history. As mayor, he cleaned up the polluted seafront and championed higher wages for hotel workers and housing for homeless veterans.
He also served as chairman of the California State Park and Recreation Commission, with Clint Eastwood as his deputy.
As Los Angeles supervisor, Mr Shriver says he wants to solve the area's nightmarish traffic problems, perhaps with a subway, find housing for veterans and create jobs. He said: "We have lost 200,000 jobs in LA County in the last 20 years. That's chronic job loss."
The election is on June 3 and the battle has turned a little nasty. Mr Shriver is also not the only candidate with Hollywood connections. His main opponent is Sheila Kuehl, who as a child actress starred in the popular 1960s sitcom 'The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis'. She was also in 'The Beverly Hillbillies'.
She went on to become a state senator and the first openly homosexual member of the California legislature. She has already beaten Mr Shriver to the endorsement of the Democratic Party.
Ms Kuehl is complimentary about her opponent's determination not to trade on his family connections. But has accused Mr Shriver of being a political "amateur and dilettante", taking aim at him for missing one-fifth of Santa Monica council meetings and going "off with Bono jetting the world".
Her biggest beef, though, is that Mr Shriver, who is worth an estimated $12m (€8.7bn), is putting $300,000 (€219,000) of his own money into the campaign. She said: "He can write himself a cheque. I don't have as much money as he does, nowhere near. But I've stood for election 10 times and I've won 10 times. This is a big job and experience is a necessity." (© Daily Telegraph, London)