Ted Kennedy Jr. says he's not re-running for Senate in Connecticut

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 30: Connecticut Senator Edward M. Kennedy Jr. speaks at the Dedication Ceremony at Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate on March 30, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

HARTFORD, Conn. — HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Ted Kennedy Jr., son of the late Massachusetts senator, said Wednesday he will not seek a third term in the Connecticut Senate because he wants to focus on protecting disability rights, which he said are under "an enormous threat" at the federal level.

The 56-year-old Democrat with the famous last name, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for offices from governor to U.S. senator, said he feels compelled to play a bigger role in the disability rights community.

"We have an enormous threat to the rights of people with disabilities in the current administration. I don't feel I can sit by and watch that erosion take place," he told The Associated Press in an interview. His state Senate term ends at the end of the year.

Asked whether he might return to elective politics, Kennedy said not to count him out, adding how he's now redirecting his political activism.

"I don't know what the future holds, but I know what's in front of me right now," he said. "Nothing is more important to me than defending the rights of people with disabilities."

Kennedy lost his right leg to bone cancer when he was 12 years old. An attorney who has worked on disability and environmental issues, Kennedy said he's been a member of the American Association of People with Disabilities for the past 15 years. Last summer, Kennedy decided to become chairman of the group's board of directors, concerned about what he sees are rollbacks of disability rights, he said.

Kennedy cited a bill that recently cleared the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives that would amend the Americans With Disabilities Act. While proponents contend the bill curbs lawyers who threaten businesses with frivolous ADA-related lawsuits, disability rights advocates said legislation discourages businesses from complying with the law.

Kennedy said he's also concerned about changes in protections for people with pre-existing conditions and the small number of attorneys working at U.S. Department of Justice on ADA compliance matters.

As chairman of the American Association of People with Disabilities, Kennedy said he plans to "rev up" a campaign to register 1 million new voters with disabilities between now and Election Day. He also plans to persuade thousands of companies to adopt policies that protect the rights of workers with disabilities.

The legislator, from Branford along the Connecticut shoreline, has focused a lot of effort in the General Assembly on environmental issues over the past four years. He is the Democratic senator chairman of the legislature's Environment Committee, where he's worked on issues ranging from state park funding to banning coal tar sealants on state and local highways. As the vice chairman of the Public Health Committee, he has worked on legislation to expand home health care opportunities.

"It's been a very difficult decision for me because I love my job in the Connecticut General Assembly,' he said, adding how he plans to remain active in his local community. "This is the right decision for me right now, given all that's at stake."