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Elise Amendola, Associated Press
In this photo taken Jan. 7, 2010, Joseph P. Kennedy III attends a campaign event for the senate candidacy of Martha Coakley in Medford, Mass. Kennedy said Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012 he is forming an exploratory committee to run for the Congressional seat held by retiring Rep. Barney Frank, and is resigning his prosecutor's job in Middlesex County. He is the son of former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II and a grandson of the late Robert F. Kennedy.

WASHINGTON — Joseph Kennedy III on Thursday took the first steps toward a run for retiring U.S. Rep. Barney Frank's Fourth District seat in Massachusetts.

The 31-year-old Kennedy said he is forming an exploratory committee and is resigning his prosecutor's job in Middlesex County outside Boston. He is the son of former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II and a grandson of the late Robert F. Kennedy.

Kennedy said he would make a final decision about whether to run in the coming weeks, but Democratic officials fully expect he will be a candidate. The formation of an exploratory committee will allow Kennedy to begin raising money for the race.

"I look forward to this new challenge, and to meeting people across the district in the weeks ahead," Kennedy said in a statement.

The Kennedy family has seen its influence in Washington fade in recent years as its younger generations have largely shunned public office.

The death of Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts in 2009 left a void for the family. The retirement of his son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, last year marked the first time in 63 years that there was not a Kennedy serving in elected office in Washington.

Kennedy said he will wind down his work as a prosecutor over the next two weeks before beginning to meet with people for his potential congressional bid.

"I will then begin to reach out to the people of the Fourth District in order to hear directly from them about the challenges they are facing and their ideas on how we can restore fairness to our system," he said. "I will make a final decision about entering the race in the weeks thereafter."

Kennedy took aim at the partisan gridlock that has enveloped Washington in recent years.

"The lack of common sense and fairness in Washington is a byproduct of the partisan gridlock that has turned obstruction into victory," he said. "Americans are better than that. Each and every day, we work with people of different backgrounds and political views to achieve a common purpose. Washington can and should do the same."

Several candidates in both parties are considering jumping into the race, including Republican Sean Bielat, who lost to Frank by 54-43 percent in 2010.

Associated Press writer Bob Salsberg contributed to this story from Boston.