Caroline Kennedy: Writers Skeptical, Fix Seems In
The Caroline Kennedy ‘listening tour,’ a reprise of Hillary Clinton’s introduction to New York eight years ago, continues to unfold.
Last Wednesday she hit Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester (for the first time). Thursday, she visited Sylvia’s Soul Food restaurant in Harlem, where she dined on fried chicken and collard greens with the Rev. Al Sharpton, who all but gave her his blessing. In the evening she stopped by the holiday party of Queens Democratic County Leader Joe Crowley at the Queens Museum where she and Crowley entertained. Friday she met UFT chief Randi Weingarten in a Manhattan hotel restaurant.
As her appointment by Governor Paterson in late January or early February appears increasingly likely, she has run into a barrage of criticism from columnists. Charles Krauthammer, nationally syndicated by the Washington Post, wrote: “No lords or ladies here. If Princess Caroline wants a seat in the Senate, let her do it by election. There’s one in 2010. To do it now by appointment on the basis of bloodline is an offense to the most minimal republicanism.”
Judith Warner, in an op-ed in the Times, suggests that Ms. Kennedy defer to Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who has been in Congress for 16 years, and instead take the House seat that Ms.Maloney would vacate, which happens to be in Ms.Kennedy’s home district on the Upper East Side.
Juan Gonzales, in the Daily News suggests: “Gov. Paterson should show some backbone. He, more than anyone, should reject this notion of government by entitlement. He should appoint the best qualified person for the job, not a novice with a brand name.”
Wayne Barrett, a veteran investigative reporter, provides a political explanation for the Kennedy boomlet. Barrett sees in Kennedy’s bid an effort by Mayor Bloomberg to assure his re-election in 2009, since by promoting her candidacy the mayor would make it less likely that she would endorse a Democratic candidate against him. Senator Schumer has always been gentle with Mayor Bloomberg, for the credible reason that his wife, who was Mayor Giuliani’s Transportation Commissioner, was reappointed and served six years under Bloomberg until she moved on to the City University.
With both Democratic senators neutralized, in addition to the strong alliance that the mayor has built with Governor Paterson, particularly on issues of fiscal responsibility, the mayoral chances of such upstarts as City Comptroller Bill Thompson or Congressman Anthony Weiner would be diminished. Both challengers might not want to be compared with Herman Badillo, an able man who was a frequent mayoral candidate, from 1969, when he lost a Democratic primary to Procaccino, to 2001, when he lost a Republican primary to Bloomberg.
Thompson might also have a problem since we now have an African-American President and Governor. A Mayor from the same ethnic group would complete a trifecta. This would have appeared impossible before 2008, but who knows how people feel now?
Some people do not like the arrival of a celebrity relatively uninvolved in public affairs at the top of the political food chain.
Others resent the power of the elite that is imposing its favorite over men and women who have devoted their lives to public service.
The candidacy has also been seen as the Kennedys’ revenge on Andrew Cuomo, the State Attorney General, and a recent favorite in the polls for the Senate appointment. When dynasties battle, the earth shakes, and we mice get out of the way.
There are also process mavens who argue that the appointment should not be made by one person acting alone. That is an outcome that Illinois is trying to avoid. But some of New York’s best public officials were chosen by one man, Charles F, Murphy, leader of Tammany Hall from 1902 to 1924.
Murphy picked Assemblyman Alfred E. Smith and State Senator Robert F. Wagner. Both went on to distinguished careers, Smith as governor and Presidential candidate in 1928, Wagner as four-term U.S. Senator, father of a mayor and grandfather of a deputy mayor and president of the board of education.
Mid-term resignation and replacement by a machine candidate has been one of the tactics that bosses use to retain power.
Some of our local state legislators and city councilmembers were chosen in that manner, which is legal but unjust. However, the nomination of a Senator to be Secretary of State cannot be considered as contrived to create a vacancy. The Queens county leader, Congressman Joe Crowley, the wisest of his generation’s political leaders, was sent to Congress by one man, his predecessor, the late Tom Manton. Crowley said: “I wouldn’t be where I am if not for my uncle and my father.” His uncle, Walter Crowley, was a city councilmember until he died, at which time his wife was chosen to succeed him.
But there are many others who admire the Kennedys, at least the older generation, and believe that Caroline can somehow bring the grace and beauty of Camelot into the 21st century. Certainly none of the other senate candidates has inspired enormous enthusiasm. There is also public distaste for politics as usual, and the wistful belief that royalty will make things better.
Nothing in her past indicates an interest in politics, but to some that lack of ambition is seen as a benefit.
And think of the harmony between the states that could grow from the fact that the junior senator from New York would be a first cousin of the first lady of California. We have not seen such bonds since the days of Napoleon.
Because the law requires it, the people will get their chance to choose in 2010, when both senators, the governor, comptroller and attorney general will be filled by election. By February 2009, three of those five seats will have been filled by interim appointees: Clinton’s successor; Paterson, who replaced Spitzer; and DiNapoli, who replaced Hevesi. It is simply wrong to allow the legislature to fill vacancies for comptroller or attorney general for a full four years. They always choose one of their own, which is probably inevitable. The smallest bow they could make to the public would be to have the interim terms expire after the November election, which follows the creation of the vacancy, rather than putting off the public vote for as many years as they can.