Toronto Star

JFK’s nephew hopes to leave past behind

William Kennedy Smith, accused of rape in ’91, elected to D.C. advisory commission


WASHINGTON— The commission­erelect was walking his new district in Northwest Washington, stopping across from the Watergate to inspect a crack in the sidewalk, crumbling concrete and a broken step.

“Look at all that stuff,” said William Kennedy Smith, Foggy Bottom’s newly elected Advisory Neighbourh­ood Commission (ANC) member.

Smith, 54, is the nephew of a slain American president. As a younger man, he was the defendant in a salacious Palm Beach rape trial that ended in his acquittal, though not before the nation devoured stories of latenight, alcohol-fuelled carousing that included then-Sen. Edward Kennedy

Twenty-three years later, here was Smith, at the intersecti­on of New Hampshire and Virginia avenues, pondering a broken step. “Small degradatio­ns in a neighbourh­ood can lead to big problems,” he said. “It’s about maintainin­g a standard.”

A new generation of leaders is preparing to take power in the District of Columbia in January. The class includes a mayor, three council members and more than 100 ANC members — unpaid citizen gadflies who delve into the small print of zoning laws and liquor licenses.

Within that class, only one person has in his office the government issued, wooden desk that once belonged to his grandfathe­r, Joseph P. Kennedy, when he was ambassador to the Court of St. James’s.

Only one was born four months before his uncle was sworn in as the 35th president.

Only one had two uncles who were assassinat­ed.

Smith isn’t just any Kennedy. He’s that Kennedy, the one who starred in a televised courtroom drama made memorable by the hovering blue dot that concealed the identity of the woman who accused him of assault. His ANC candidacy drove a number of his neighbours to type his name into Google to recall the case that spawned such headlines as “Woman says she was raped at Kennedy estate.”

Smith understand­s the chatter about his past. At the same time, he said, “Do I want to make that the monologue of my life? No, I don’t.”

“I’m innocent,” he said. “I have things I want to do.”

Smith was behind his grandfathe­r’s desk in his office at the Watergate, where he runs MedRed, a medical software company. An original Warhol of his uncle Ted hung on a wall. A Wyeth rendering of John Kennedy on a sailboat was on another wall. Smith was recalling how John Kennedy appointed his brother Bobby as attorney general only because of Joe Kennedy’s orders; how, in1960, John Kennedy had managed to defeat the leading political gladiators of that era — Humphrey, Johnson and Nixon.

His mother, Jean, is the eighth of Joe and Rose Kennedy’s nine children. His father, Stephen Smith, took over Joe Kennedy’s business interests at his death and managed cam- paigns for Robert and Ted.

As a child, Smith logged his share of time at family funerals, including Bobby’s at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. Smith remembers his brother, Steve, holding a candle during the service and accidental­ly lighting a cousin’s hair on fire.

The Smiths lived on Fifth Ave., a block from Jackie Kennedy. Smith and John Kennedy Jr. attended the same private school. One afternoon in 1974, they snuck away from John’s Secret Service escort and went to Central Park, where a mugger stole John’s bike. The incident made national news, though without any reference to Smith. At such moments, he learned the benefits of not sharing his cousins’ famous last name.

Through his 20s, he was known as William Smith. What turned him into a Kennedy, he said, was Patricia Bowman’s 1991 accusation that he raped her at his family’s Florida estate.

“It changed my identity,” Smith said of the unceasing and largely unflatteri­ng news coverage that defined his 30th year.

After his arrest, Smith, then a stu- dent at Georgetown University’s medical school, called Bowman’s allegation a “damnable lie.” Prosecutor­s were set to call to the stand three more women — a doctor, a law student and a medical student — willing to testify that he assaulted them between 1983 and 1988. The judge barred their testimony.

The jury deliberate­d 77 minutes before finding Smith not guilty. The next year, he began an internship at the University of New Mexico hospital. He spent a month in Somalia as a medical volunteer. He developed an interest in prosthetic­s and treating amputees. After getting a medical degree, Smith settled in Chicago, where he became the director of the Center for Internatio­nal Rehabilita­tion (CIR.), a not-for-profit that helps victims of landmine explosions.

In 2004, another woman — a former assistant at CIR. whom he had dated — filed a civil lawsuit accusing Smith of sexual assault regarding an incident that had allegedly occurred five years before.

A judge dismissed the suit.

The cloud that may still loom over Smith’s reputation is invisible to his 36-year-old wife, Anne. “I know who my husband is and I’m comfortabl­e defending him — he’s a wonderful husband,” she said. The old stories, she said, are “cockroache­s that will live forever.”

“He has been given a raw deal,” she said.

When he decided to run, Smith expected his past to resurface.

“I feel misunderst­ood,” he said, pacing behind his grandfathe­r’s desk. “The story about me is the story everyone has heard that involved bad behaviour and hurting people. I don’t relate to that narrative.

“Half-truths and lies,” he said of the “characteri­zations that have been made about me by some people.” He paused. “I recognize I’ve had broken relationsh­ips in my life,” he said. “I want to accept responsibi­lity for my part.

“I’m not a person looking for conflict or endless rehashing,” he said. “Whatever else is going on, that’s always going to be the narrative.”

 ?? MELINA MARA/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? William Kennedy Smith, 54, was elected to the Washington, D.C., Advisory Neighbourh­ood Commission. He is the nephew of John F. Kennedy.
MELINA MARA/THE WASHINGTON POST William Kennedy Smith, 54, was elected to the Washington, D.C., Advisory Neighbourh­ood Commission. He is the nephew of John F. Kennedy.

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