Richard D. Mahoney

Richard D. Mahoney

Richard D. Mahoney, the son of William P. Mahoney, a Phoenix lawyer and United States Ambassador to Ghana, was born in 1952. Mahoney was educated at Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University and Arizona State University.

Mahoney has lectured as a visiting professor at Templeton College (Oxford University), The JFK School of Government (Harvard University), the Beijing Institute of Foreign Trade, and the Universidad del Pacifico (Quito, Ecuador). He was also professor emeritus at The American Graduate School of International Management.

Mahoney is the author of two books on the John F. Kennedy administration: JFK: Ordeal in Africa (1983) and Sons and Brothers, The days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy (1999) as well as numerous articles and monographs on presidential history, foreign policy, international trade, and political risk. He has also published a volume of poetry in Spanish entitled Pétalos (1995). His latest book is Getting Away With Murder (2004).

In addition to his academic work, Mahoney formed a foundation, Nuestra Familia, in 1998 that started social entrepreneurship projects (the creation of small profit centers that fund social justice and human development) in two Latin American countries.

A member of the Democratic Party, Mahoney was elected Secretary of State of Arizona in 1990 and ran for the United States Senate in 1994 and governor in 2002. He also served as chief speechwriter in the presidential campaigns of Senators Gary Hart and Paul Simon.

Primary Sources

(1) Jean Sonmor, review of Richard D. Mahoney's book, Sons and Brothers, The days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, in The Toronto Sun (17th October, 1999)

Did Bobby Kennedy aid and abet those who would kill his beloved brother?

That gruesome question is the premise of a fascinating new look at the 1,000 days of JFK's presidency and the relationship of the two men at the centre of it - Jack and Bobby. The book, Sons And Brothers, is written by Richard Mahoney, a former Arizona Secretary of State and the first Kennedy Scholar at the Kennedy Library.

But the book makes no pretense of objectivity. Mahoney is engaged, delighted, maybe even a little consumed, by the Kennedys. As he reveals in the introduction, his father was a friend of RFK (on the list of people the senator intended to phone after his victory speech the night Sirhan Sirhan's bullet found him). Before that, the elder Mahoney had been a JFK appointee as ambassador to Ghana. He was close enough to the president to be privy to JFK's ruminations on the pros and cons of assassinating Castro. Clearly there was a high level of trust between the two large Irish Catholic families.

Of course, there's a 'but' - and this to me is what makes Mahoney's view so interesting - the young Mahoney writing three decades later was forced to re-evaluate everything in the cold light of not just history, but the tapes and diaries of everybody who knew the brothers. Even for an unabashed admirer, there was no hiding the dark side of Camelot.

But Mahoney is more interested in elucidating than in judging, more a scholar than a polemicist and that makes his book both more balanced and more humane than the recent muckraking work of Seymour Hersh, for example. In addition, Mahoney has a crisp way with an anecdote and a rich and subtle vocabulary. Both add to the pleasure of reading this book.(If you'd rather read about JFK's remorse over the Bay of Pigs than his chlamydia, this book's for you.)

Central to the thesis is the symbiosis of Jack and Bobby. The dirty work, the vituperation, the unattractive lunging after enemies and the nursing of grudges was left to Bobby. Jack floated on the surface of his brother's swirling ferocity making adroit jokes and treating power as "a worthy aesthetic pursuit." Bobby saw it "in terms of ... tribal exigencies."

Jack was famously detached; Bobby engaged. But many who knew them understood that Jack was the front man, while the passion, the ideas and much of the drive came from Bobby who was, in Jack's own phrase, "easily the most impressive man I've ever seen."

Where does the father fit in all of this? For Jack, Joe was the essential sounding board, the one who had to be pleased, the one who could not be crossed. If the Ambassador wanted something, he got it - at least from Jack. Bobby, it seems, was just the opposite. He saw - or at least came to see - the old man clearly. To friends, he hinted about the blood price the brothers paid for their father's nefarious business dealings and the family's "cankered heaps of strange-achieved gold," in a Shakespearean phrase he once quoted to poet Robert Lowell.

Bobby, in his relentless war on organized crime, seems to have barely blinked when his own father's name turned up in wiretaps. Did he know that the Chicago "Outfit" had sent a campaign cheque for $500,000 to Joe Kennedy's office in Manhattan, a cheque that the mob believed bought JFK the presidency? Certainly he didn't act as if he knew.

After JFK's assassination, Bobby said, "I knew they would get one of us.... I thought it would be me."

It isn't clear, Mahoney writes, if "they" were the crime bosses or the unhappy Cuban exiles badly used by the administration's bungling.

But in the hour after his adored brother was assassinated, Bobby took a call from CIA director John McCone and asked him "in a way that he couldn't lie to me ... if they had killed my brother." A little while later he called the Washington safe house of the Cuban operatives. "One of your guys did it," he said flatly.

But the crime bosses also had plenty of motive - and they too were involved in the murky Cuban plots. Mahoney quotes the head of the FBI's organized crime division on the effect of the assassination: "The minute that bullet hit Jack Kennedy's head, it was over. Right then the organized crime program just stopped and (J. Edgar) Hoover took over."

Why did Bobby, with his strong suspicion of conspiracy, not force the Warren Commission to dig deeper? One reason was Marilyn Monroe etc. -- the whole question of the Dionysian side of the presidency. Bobby was determined his brother would remain a public saint.

After the assassination, he wore his own wretchedness and guilt just as surely as he wore his brother's old pea jacket. And when he died in a hail of bullets five years later, the last words he whispered, Mahoney says, were "Jack, Jack, Jack."

The book is cast - as were the brothers' lives - as a Greek tragedy. It's supposed to be uplifting, I guess. But for me, their unholy flirtation with death only reinforces the most striking aspect of their lives - their abundant youth. Bobby turned 38 two days before Jack was assassinated. Exactly the age of his untried young nephew JFK Jr. last month when he too died senselessly.

The image we're left with is of improbably gifted men wasted by history.

(2) Wendy Smith, review of Richard D. Mahoney's book, Sons and Brothers, The days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, on Amazon (2004)

This intriguing book brings a fresh perspective to bear on the intimate, charged partnership of John and Robert Kennedy. The author, Richard D. Mahoney, whose father was a friend of Bobby's and an appointee of Jack's, has both the academic and political experience necessary to evaluate evidence of the Kennedys' relations with the Mafia, anti-Castro rebels, and other groups lurking in the shadows of American life. He also has a sharp eye for the brothers' differing yet complementary personalities. Jack was intellectual and cheerfully cynical, with a zest for pleasure increased by a life-threatening illness concealed from the public. He looked to passionate, partisan Bobby for bulldog-like political support and used his brother as a "moral compass" when planning his administration's actions on civil rights, the corruption of organized labor, and the containment of Communism. Their powerful father, Joseph - whose deep pockets basically bought Jack the presidency and at the same time compromised it because of Joseph's links to organized crime - looms over the brothers as the author of a Faustian bargain that may well have played a role in JFK's assassination. Mahoney's vivid, compulsively readable text offers suggestive questions rather than definitive answers, but it certainly succeeds as a bracing corrective to "America's inability to see its history as tragedy," a failure Jack and Bobby emphatically did not share.

(3) Richard D. Mahoney, Sons and Brothers, The days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy (1999)

Late one evening, probably March 13, Rosselli passed the poison pills and the money to a small, reddish-haired Afro-Cuban by the name of Rafael "Macho" Gener in the Boom Boom Room, a location Giancana thought "stupid."

Rosselli's purpose, however, was not just to assassinate Castro but to set up the Mafia's partner in crime, the United States government. Accordingly, he was laying a long, bright trail of evidence that unmistakably implicated the CIA in the Castro plot. This evidence, whose purpose was blackmail, would prove critical in the CIA's cover-up of the Kennedy assassination.