With accusations of voter fraud, fake news and a district attorney investigation into a Kennedy, the 1978 Fullerton City Council race was full of drama. Most of it centered on candidate Ralph Kennedy.
During the heat of the race, County Registrar Al Olsen publicly requested the district attorney’s office investigate Kennedy due to voting registration irregularities involving the Kennedy residence.
The Daily News Tribune reported that Kennedy was the subject of a probe into voting irregularities based on Olsen’s request to the district attorney, even though there was no active investigation.
The allegations stemmed from an excessive amount of people registered to vote at the Kennedy residence. As active members of the Presbyterian Church and its refugee program Ralph Kennedy and his wife Natalie would often take people in who needed help getting on their feet.
As civically minded individuals, the Kennedys encouraged anyone staying with them to register to vote.
“If they were living under his roof they had to register,” said Saskia Kennedy, granddaughter of Ralph Kennedy.
The inaccurate reporting was corrected after the DA came out and said there was no active probe. A year prior, there had been an investigation, but the DA concluded there was no wrongdoing by Kennedy or anyone tied to his residence.
Ralph Kennedy fought back against these allegations calling it a smear campaign. But unfortunately, the damage was done, and Kennedy fell short in his bid for the city council.
After the defeat, Ralph Kennedy and family and friends wanted to do something to help the community. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, an all-volunteer newspaper named the Fullerton Observer was born.
Ralph Kennedy had never intended to be a journalist or a politician. He was an aerospace engineer who designed navigational systems for the Apollo spacecraft.
In the late 1950s Ralph Kennedy and his wife Natalie, a school teacher, became gradually more involved in the civil rights movement.
A major issue facing Fullerton at the time was housing discrimination. Ralph and Natalie Kennedy, along with other community members, fought back against those restrictions and would go on to found the Fullerton Fair Housing Council.
By 1968 Ralph Kennedy dedicated more of his time to social issues and decided to leave his day job behind.
“It was wonderful exploring the problems of space travel, and exciting, and technically challenging. But there were so many problems here on Earth, I decided to dedicate myself to solving some of those,” said Ralph Kennedy in a 1997 Los Angeles Times article.
And so, at 54-years-old, without a journalism background, Kennedy became an editor, publisher and journalist.
Over the next 19 years, Kennedy was an important journalistic voice for the City of Fullerton and was a daily fixture in the community. He was often seen riding his bike around town, photographing the city and seeking out stories.
When Ralph Kennedy passed away in 1998 from cancer, it left a void in the community, but it also left questions about the survival of the Fullerton Observer.
Sharon Kennedy, Ralph and Natalie’s daughter, took over the paper and ran it for 22 years. Sharon Kennedy built her legacy continuing her parents’ work and becoming an important voice for Fullerton in her own right.
In 2020 Sharon Kennedy stepped down from the paper, again leaving the future of the Fullerton Observer in question.
Along with Fullerton professor Jesse Le Tour and local artist Matthew Leslie, Saskia Kennedy stepped in and purchased the paper from Sharon Kennedy, Saskia’s mother.
Although Saskia Kennedy is carrying on the tradition of the paper into the third-generation of Kennedys she has been away from it for 20 years.
It’s been a year of transition for the Fullerton Observer as well as Saskia Kennedy herself, “I’ve been back since October, so I’m the newbie.”
The Fullerton Observer has had challenges beyond just new ownership. It experienced a dramatic drop in advertising due to the pandemic. Advertising is the papers’ primary source of funds to cover expenses.
The paper also has a subscriber base which, as Saskia Kennedy says, “It is impressive because it’s free. It’s’ free in print and it’s free online.” Subscribers support the paper because they believe in its mission. Unfortunately, it’s’ not enough to cover expenses.
As the pandemic winds down, advertising has picked up, and the new owners continue to find their footing. The paper defied the odds for 43 years, remaining true to its mission—a mission defined by a love of Fullerton and a dedication to its readership.
As Saskia says, “The better and more lively and robust our community is, the better it is for everyone.”
The Fullerton Observer is free and can be found at any of their 11 local newsstands. In addition, anyone wishing to support independent local journalism can purchase a subscription on their website. It’s $35 annually for 21 issues.