Patrick Kennedy's family, and New England's fondness for its members, helped get him elected to the Legislature at age 21.

Now he's taking heat for the rape scandal that has enveloped the family.The lanky 23-year-old Providence College senior, who graduates Sunday, has been swamped with media attention since a woman accused his cousin William Kennedy Smith of raping her March 30 at the family's Palm Beach, Fla., estate.

The youngest of Sen. Edward Kennedy's three children, Patrick was in Florida the night of the alleged attack, as were his father and Smith.

Smith, a 30-year-old medical student, has been charged with rape. Patrick Kennedy saw the woman after the alleged rape and has been interviewed by police.

Patrick Kennedy has told police his cousin acknowledged having sex with the alleged victim. And Kennedy said his father left Palm Beach that weekend knowing police wanted to talk to him about an alleged rape at the estate.

The strain is showing on the Democratic state representative from Providence.

On Wednesday he rushed past reporters at the Statehouse seeking his comment on the latest developments in the Palm Beach case, and on his mother's recent arrest for drunken driving.

"I've got to go in and vote," Kennedy called out, saying a statement was available from his office.

But the House session hadn't started and Kennedy was trapped on the House floor.

When he does respond to questions, it may be with anger. During a TV interview last week, he said: "I think when you're talking about my family and you're talking about its reputation, I've been absolutely disgusted and frustrated by the way it's been dragged through the mud."

"You're dragging my father and me through the mud and we weren't even suspects," he added. "I find it disgusting."

His father, in a lengthy public statement Wednesday, conceded that he was informed at the family's Florida compound that his nephew had been accused of "sexual battery," but said he did not realize that meant Smith was accused of rape.

Kennedy again insisted that he never meant to dodge police or obstruct the investigation into the alleged attack.

He also denied any discrepancy between his statements to police and those of his son, Patrick.

Kennedy has repeatedly denied ever being told by police or anyone else that a rape occurred until he returned to Washington on April 1 and immediately contacted police.

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Joan faces charges

Joan Kennedy's blood-alcohol level reportedly was almost twice the legal limit and she had an open bottle of vodka in the car when she was arrested Tuesday evening on drunken-driving charges for the second time in three years. The former wife of Sen. Edward Kennedy pleaded innocent and surrendered her license Wednesday in Quincy, Mass. She remained free on $25 bail after her court appearance. Kennedy, 55, was charged with drunken driving, failing to stay within marked lanes and having an open container of alcohol. Police said they saw her car swerving across all three lanes of an expressway.