Another Kennedy in the United States Senate?
Caroline Kennedy, daughter of a president and niece of two senators, wants to join the family business.
The fiercely private daughter of the nationâ€™s 35th president, Ms. Kennedy is better known for her love of poetry and writing civic books for young adults than for any expertise in the rough-and-tumble political world.
But as an heir to one of Americaâ€™s political dynasties, her urge for public service is not that surprising.
From her early years as a child living in the White House, to a lifetime of quietly campaigning for family, to her more recent prominent involvement with the Obama campaign, politics and public service have saturated the air around her.
And from a New York perspective, what better candidate is there?
As pollster John Zogby puts it, this is the â€śoriginal donâ€™t-wait-your-turnâ€ť state. From Averill Harriman to Nelson Rockefeller, from Bobby Kennedy to Hillary Clinton, the Empire State is known for its love of a celebrity.
â€śNone of these people ever sat in a city council or served in the state Assembly,â€ť says Mr. Zogby, whose polling firm is based in Utica, N.Y. â€śWe have a tradition of choosing people who are larger than life. This is a Kennedy â€“ at least she lives in New York.â€ť
But not all New Yorkers are keen on the idea, primarily because of Kennedyâ€™s lack of political experience.
The state and city face multibillion-dollar deficits. The financial sector, the engine that has kept the Big Apple running for the past quarter of a century, has stumbled badly. Some pols and pundits say whatâ€™s needed is experience and economic expertise to help New York rebuild its economy, not a celebrity.
â€śIt would be a singularly inappropriate appointment,â€ť says Fred Siegel at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. â€śShe is someone who has no knowledge or interest in money and the underlying economic questions facing the state.â€ť
The decision lies with Gov. David Paterson (D), who has the sole authority to appoint Senator Clintonâ€™s successor and has to balance the political landscape in making his choice.
He has some strong political alliances with other elected officials who have signaled their interested in Clintonâ€™s seat. The most prominent is Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, another heir to a New York political dynasty. (His father Mario Cuomo was governor.) That has to be balanced against the star power and national fundraising potential of a Kennedy appointment.
â€śThere may be a political and electorate payoff for Paterson in 2010 if [Kennedy] were on the ballot with him that he has to consider,â€ť says pollster Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Poll in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
In a recent Marist Poll, Kennedy and Attorney General Cuomo were deadlocked at 25 percent each when New Yorkers were asked whom theyâ€™d like to see as the next senator. But that was before Kennedy expressed interest by reaching out to state political leaders this week.
Some of Senator Clintonâ€™s prominent supporters have publicly opposed the idea of a Sen. Caroline Kennedy, citing her lack of experience.
â€śThe irony of all ironies: every single word verbatim that the Clinton people are using against Caroline Kennedy [was] used against Hillary 10 years ago,â€ť says Zogby.
When she first ran for the Senate, Clinton had a fairly steep learning curve. But she impressed many with her work ethic and especially her attention to Upstate, a relatively rural, conservative area.
â€śThere will be a learning curve for Kennedy, as well,â€ť says pollster Miringoff. â€śShe has been around politics all of her life and has built-in appeal and name recognition, but being a candidate is a different ball game.â€ť
Other critics wonder if Kennedy, with her seemingly gentle presence, has the grit to survive in New Yorkâ€™s sometimes brutal political culture. Her supporters point out that sheâ€™s a lawyer, a prominent fundraiser for the cityâ€™s schools, and a member of the board of many leading philanthropies. Then, of course, thereâ€™s the fact that she is a Kennedy.
â€śItâ€™s grueling and brutal to have New York City pols going after you, which they are doing right now,â€ť says Zogby. â€śHer father and uncle were assassinated and her brother killed in a plane crash. Sheâ€™s been reading about herself and every family member in the tabloids for years. If anybody can handle New York politics, a Kennedy can.â€ť