There are days when political things seem so obvious. From the day Hillary Clinton announced that she would accept Barack Obama’s invitation to be Secretary of State, I have believed that the obvious candidate to take her place would be Caroline Kennedy. She is a big-time New Yorker, her name is recognizable around the world, she is an expert on things educational and she is the daughter of the martyred John F. Kennedy, as well as the niece of Ted Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. She’s Jackie’s daughter; and no one needs to ask, “Which Jackie?” She is smart, thoughtful, articulate and an answer to Gov. David Paterson’s dilemma. He needs a Senator who supersedes ethnic and geographic rivalries, who can raise money and win as a candidate in her own right in the same year that he is running for his first fully elected term. She is a mom, a loving wife, a rock of Gibraltar in the Kennedy family. No one will ever forget the image of a very young Caroline playing with her young brother John-John and the handsome JFK.
She and Uncle Ted probably provided the final push that got Barack Obama over the line. Caroline Kennedy’s speech was not that of a backroom politician but a clear, thoughtful voice that I expect is to speaking as Joan Baez’s voice is to singing. When their lips move, you listen. Kennedy has the connections not only to her friend, the governor, but to the president she helped elect.
Of all the names that have been mentioned, only one other is well known to the public and that is Andrew Cuomo, the ambitious and increasingly accomplished New York Attorney General. The younger Cuomo has always wanted to sit in the chair that Papa Mario occupied on the second floor of the State Capitol. The job of United States Senator from New York is a very important one. I am not surprised that Cuomo the younger wants it. The question is whether Paterson would be better off with Andrew in the Senate or with Kennedy. Put yourself in Paterson’s place. Wouldn’t you want a woman with an international reputation in the Senate, as opposed to a rival who you know is looking to replace you when and if you make a blunder? You have the advantage of promoting another woman to the Senate. Even if Andrew got down on his knees and promised never, ever to betray you, would you believe him? If Kennedy were not in the race, Paterson would have to consider Cuomo over some of the others who are what I have always called “Who-they’s?” in politics.
Choosing an obscure member of Congress from New York just wouldn’t meet your political needs. Even the upstate-downstate conundrum would be solved because Kennedy transcends the issues.
Of course, this is far from a done deal. No matter what the published reports say, she still has to want it. The family legacy of martyrdom is not to be ignored, and that has to sit heavily on Kennedy’s mind. If I were Paterson, who is going to need all the help he can get in these dangerous times, I would seriously try to turn this opportunity into a reality.
Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.
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