Pursuit of Senate seat snared in N.Y. politics
By MICHAEL GORMLEY
ALBANY, N.Y. — Caroline Kennedy’s bid to get appointed to the Senate and extend the Camelot dynasty has run into the bare-knuckle world of New York politics, where a backlash appears to be building against her.
Some politics-watchers have accused the 51-year-old daughter of President John F. Kennedy of a series of missteps last week doing an upstate tour, when she evaded questions and in one case was hustled away by an aide after meeting with reporters for all of 30 seconds.
At the same time, some New York politicians, privately and publicly, have complained that Kennedy is jumping the line ahead of political figures with far more experience and that she has become the presumed front-runner by virtue of her name alone.
As the process has dragged on, political adversaries have had all the more opportunities to undercut her candidacy through various attacks, sniping and newspaper leaks.
On Wednesday, Gov. David Paterson said the bickering sounded “more like the prelude to a high school program than the choosing of a U.S. senator.”
“She’s a piInata now,” said Maurice Carroll, longtime New York political reporter and now pollster for Quinnipiac University. “Until Paterson says `yes’ or `no,’ she’s going to be a piInata for everybody to take a whack at, using anonymous sources.”
The whole process has left Kennedy damaged as she looks to replace Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and inherit the seat that her slain uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, once held.
“I think the people who are handling Caroline Kennedy’s campaign are screwing up,” said former New York Mayor Ed Koch. “I think it’s becoming less and less certain that the governor, who I hope will appoint her, does appoint her.”
Paterson has said he won’t appoint a new senator until Clinton is confirmed as secretary of state. He has not tipped his hand as to whom he prefers.
In addition to being a member of the closest thing America has to a royal family, Kennedy is a Harvard- and Columbia-educated lawyer, an author and a prodigious fundraiser for the New York City public school system.
Among those who are also said to be interested in the Senate seat are New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi of Long Island, and Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Steve Israel, Jerrold Nadler, Kirsten Gillibrand and Brian Higgins.
Many of Kennedy’s problems began after the upstate tour last week. The tour was not announced, then was confirmed only piecemeal by her advisers.
In Syracuse, she met reporters for 30 seconds. In Buffalo she took questions for just two minutes. But she was captured on TV — in a piece of footage that has been shown over and over — dodging some basic questions from the public she hopes to serve.
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle called the tour a “drive-by visit.”
Subsequent requests for her views on basic policy issues, New York and her own finances and investments resulted last weekend in an e-mail written by her spokesman, not from Kennedy herself. That further rankled some news organizations.
This week, supporters of the other half-dozen candidates in the hunt — and some Clinton supporters still miffed at Kennedy’s early endorsement of Barack Obama for president — tossed more obstacles in her way.
Former New York Rep. Geraldine Ferraro told “Meet the Press” that Paterson should pick someone already familiar with Congress, probably from within Congress, to hit the ground running amid national and state fiscal crises.
The bickering intensified Tuesday after New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver suggested that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his supporters have hijacked the process for their own political gain. Many of Kennedy’s advisers have close ties to Bloomberg.
“If I were the governor, I would look and question whether this is the appointment I would want to make, whether her first obligation might be to the mayor of the city of New York rather than the governor,” Silver told WGDJ-AM in Albany. Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, is the most powerful legislative leader in New York.
A Quinnipiac poll this week found New Yorkers were evenly split when asked if Kennedy was qualified for Senate. And though she had a 46 percent approval rating, 36 percent said they didn’t know enough about her to have an opinion. The poll questioned 834 registered voters Dec. 17-21 and had a margin of error of about 3 percentage points.
Koch, a Kennedy supporter, said he is hoping the sniping reflects more on Kennedy’s political handlers than on her.
“Even though this is not an election in the traditional sense, the public has a right to know more about their senatorial candidates than she or her handlers are letting her divulge,” Koch said. “She’s a very nice, highly intelligent person ... and has the DNA that will, in my judgment, make her someone who is totally worthy of the consideration she is being given.”