A prominent New York Democratic congressman publicly questioned Caroline Kennedy's credentials to replace Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
ALBANY - A prominent New York Democratic congressman publicly questioned Caroline Kennedy's credentials to replace Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying she's no more qualified to hold office than Jennifer Lopez.
Rep. Gary Ackerman of Queens, a 25-year veteran of Congress, declared in a radio interview: "I don't know what Caroline Kennedy's qualifications are."
"Except that she has name recognition, but so does J.Lo," Ackerman continued on Steve Malzberg's radio show on WOR. "I wouldn't make J.Lo the senator unless she proved she had great qualifications, but we haven't seen them yet."
Ackerman's interview was posted on the Web by Malzberg yesterday after being broadcast Monday.
Ackerman is the first prominent New York Democrat to question Kennedy's credentials at a time when Gov. Paterson is considering John F. Kennedy's daughter as one of a dozen potential replacements for Clinton, President-elect Barack Obama's choice for secretary of state.
Some Democratic activists have publicly questioned the fitness of Kennedy, a lawyer and mother of three who has never sought public office, for the Senate. But no prominent elected Democrat had been willing to take on a member of the powerful Kennedy clan until now.
Ackerman also joked that he had taken himself out of the running for the Senate in a way that appeared to highlight Kennedy's lack of statewide experience. He said he wouldn't want to replace Clinton "because I don't do Utica, and that's a qualification for the job."
A Marist College poll Tuesday showed that Kennedy, who lives in Manhattan, has her weakest support for a potential Senate race among upstate voters.
Ackerman's eyebrow-raising comments came as Paterson signaled his unhappiness with efforts by several prominent people, including members of Kennedy family, to lobby him on behalf of their favored candidates.
"It's important for the candidates to focus all of their activities on trying to establish that they are the best candidate, and not on trying to assert any undue influence," said Paterson.
"It's important for me to concentrate only on how the candidates will help New York if they are chosen to serve in the Senate."
Some members of the Kennedy family - including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of former New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy - have been lobbying for Caroline to get Clinton's job.