Kennedy Is Said to Cast Her Eye on Senate Seat

Caroline Kennedy, a daughter of America’s most storied political family who for many years fiercely guarded her privacy, is considering whether to pursue the Senate seat expected to be vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton early next year, a family member said Friday.

Representative Kirsten E. Gillibrand, left, is reportedly popular among supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton. One group of women helped her raise $4.5 million for her re-election.

“I believe that she is considering it,” said her cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has spoken to Ms. Kennedy about the matter during the past week. “A lot of people the last couple of weeks have urged her to do it.”

Ms. Kennedy called Gov. David A. Paterson on Wednesday to discuss the position, Mr. Paterson confirmed Friday. The governor will choose a replacement for Mrs. Clinton upon her expected confirmation as secretary of state next month.

“The conversation was informational,” Mr. Paterson said. “She did not express an interest in the Senate, but we talked about the Senate, so I got that she was just trying to get some information to determine whether or not she would like to have an interest in it. And that was it.”

He added, “I haven’t offered the job to anyone.”

Ms. Kennedy, 51, a lawyer who lives in Manhattan, could not be reached on Friday.

The anticipated vacancy in the Senate seat, which was once occupied by her uncle Robert F. Kennedy, has set off intense speculation in the political world. Any interest from Ms. Kennedy could instantly overshadow others whose names have been mentioned as possible successors to Mrs. Clinton, including the state attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, and several members of the New York congressional delegation.

And Ms. Kennedy could satisfy those Democrats who have been urging the governor to find a replacement for Mrs. Clinton with star power who can continue to bring attention to New York and its issues in the Senate.

Ms. Kennedy took on an unusually public role in the presidential election this year, first announcing in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times that she would back Senator Barack Obama for president, then appearing for him at campaign stops around the country.

It is unclear, however, how badly Ms. Kennedy wants to be senator, or how much appetite she has for the unglamorous aspects of campaigning across New York’s 62 counties. Ms. Kennedy would have to run back-to-back races — in 2010, to serve out the remainder of Mrs. Clinton’s term, and again in 2012, for a full term of her own

“Hillary Clinton was a superstar, but she worked like an animal,” said one prominent Democratic elected official who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing the governor.

Still, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental advocate who has taken himself out of the running for the seat, noted Ms. Kennedy’s tremendous work ethic and her success raising money for New York City’s public schools.

“I don’t think anybody who knows Caroline doubts that she has fire in her belly,” Mr. Kennedy said. “She’s a workaholic.”

Ms. Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, is especially close to her uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who has been treated for brain cancer in recent months.

The emergence of Ms. Kennedy comes as a wide network of feminist organizations and prominent female Democratic activists have been mobilizing to lobby Mr. Paterson to choose a female successor to Mrs. Clinton.

On Thursday, the group Feminist Majority, joined by the National Organization for Women, endorsed Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, who represents parts of Manhattan and Queens, citing her many years in elected office and proven experience in advancing women’s issues.

But reached on Friday night, Eleanor Smeal, the president of Feminist Majority, said that if Ms. Kennedy decided to seek the job, she would have to go back to her board to discuss whom they would support going forward.

“I feel that her record is extremely strong. We know she gets things done,” Ms. Smeal said of Ms. Maloney. “But there’s no question we’ll go back to the board. You’re talking to someone who thinks Ted Kennedy is the most effective senator there.”

Other leading women have been urging Mr. Paterson to appoint Representative Kirsten E. Gillibrand, who represents an upstate district.

Many veteran supporters of Mrs. Clinton’s view the choice of her successor as a significant test not only for women’s progress in politics, but of Mrs. Clinton’s political legacy. The wrong choice, they say, could reopen wounds barely healed from the presidential campaign. Some even said that they would demand that a woman be selected for the post even if Mrs. Clinton — who has not yet expressed a preference to the governor — backed a man.

“Those women are elated with her appointment to the Department of State, but they still feel quite bruised by the political process over the last year,” said Judith Hope, a former state Democratic Party chairwoman who is close to Mr. Paterson. “The women I am talking to feel very, very strongly that the next United States senator from New York should be a woman.”

The effort to push for a woman spans a variety of national and state groups, such as NOW, Naral Pro-Choice America, and the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee, a group that raises money for Democratic women running for office in New York. And it includes prominent Democratic women such as Ellen R. Malcolm, the head of Emily’s List, and Susan Patricof, a major Democratic fund-raiser whose husband, Alan Patricof, was a national finance chairman for Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign.

They suggested that the choice for Mrs. Clinton’s successor is especially important not only because of her prominence but because of the central role she played on issues like abortion rights and expanded access to birth control. They said they believed that no man, no matter how well-intentioned, would give those issues the same attention as Mrs. Clinton.

“Once your eyes have been opened on what can be done in terms of when you have someone who is a real leader, it’s a bitter pill to think of going back,” said Kelli Conlin president of Naral Pro-Choice New York, an abortion rights group.

Some other Democrats, however, are skeptical that Governor Paterson should give so much weight to the gender of his pick. They said he should be primarily concerned with experience, but also give thought to regional diversity, especially since none of the state’s top officials now hail from north of, say, Chappaqua.

“Our party is rightly concerned with diversity in gender and race,” said Assemblyman Joseph D. Morelle, who is also chairman of the Monroe County Democratic Party. “I am afraid sometimes that we begin to categorize so much that very talented people get overlooked because they don’t meet the proper demographic characteristics.”

The women’s groups and people involved have encouraged thousands of their volunteers across the country to send e-mail messages to the governor. Some who know him well have already made personal pleas, while others will buy tickets to his first major fund-raiser next week, and try to buttonhole Mr. Paterson in person.

“If anyone has connections, they will call,” said Lorna Brett Howard, a philanthropist who is the former president of NOW’s Chicago chapter. “I have friends in Chicago and L.A. who are talking. They say, ‘Who is he going to pick?’ Especially the die-hard people Hillary people.”

Aides to Mr. Paterson have stressed that he has weeks before he must make his selection.

Danny Hakim contributed reporting.



By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE and DAVID M. HALBFINGER
Published: December 5, 2008

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/06/ny...pagewanted=all