SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Caroline Kennedy finally made public her desire to carry on her famous family's legacy, reaching out to a handful of mayors and some political leaders yesterday in a carefully choreographed effort to win support for her quest to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton in the U.S. Senate.
The daughter of President John F. Kennedy was driven across the state along the main east-west road, hitting three of its four biggest cities to talk to elected officials and Democratic Party power brokers. She bypassed Albany, the state capital and seat of political power.
In Rochester, Kennedy stuck closely to a tightly controlled script but started to sound themes apparently designed to assuage those who question her readiness for a high-profile elected office.
"I just hope everybody understands that it is not a campaign," she said, "but that I have had a lifelong devotion to public service. I've written books on the Constitution and the importance of individual participation. I think I really could help bring change to Washington."
Before that, in Syracuse, her handlers cut her off when she was asked what her qualifications were to be a senator. As she left Syracuse City Hall, the first of her brief stops, she spoke briefly to a group of reporters and took no questions.
"I just wanted to say, as some of you may have heard, I would be honored to be considered for the position of U.S. senator," Kennedy said. "I wanted to come upstate to meet Mayor Driscoll and others to tell them about my experience and also learn how Washington can help Upstate New York."
Kennedy, 51, took note of the crowded field of elected officials who have been named as possible successors to Clinton, the nominee for secretary of state. "There are lot of good candidates the governor is considering, and he's laid out a process and I'm proud to be in that process," Kennedy said.
Gov. David A. Paterson has said he won't name a replacement until Clinton is confirmed, which won't happen until at least the end of January. The new senator will have to run in 2010 to fill the last two years of Clinton's term and then run for a full term in 2012.
In response to a reporter's question later in Rochester, Kennedy said that if Paterson did not appoint her, she would run for the office. "Absolutely," she said.
Kennedy spokesman Stefan Friedman later said she had misheard the question, and meant only that she would run for election in 2010 if the governor appointed her in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Rep. Charles B. Rangel, a close adviser to Paterson, suggested the governor may have already made up his mind. "The governor has privately shared with me his decision to name a candidate," he told WNET-TV. But a Rangel spokesman immediately told the Associated Press the congressman's comments did not mean he knew who the next senator will be.
Kennedy is the highest-profile name in the race to take the seat once held by her uncle Robert F. Kennedy. Her upstate outreach is similar to Clinton's "listening tour" in 1999 and 2000, when she first ran for the Senate. Like Clinton, Kennedy faces criticism because she has never been elected to public office. Some also worry she would favor New York City interests over the rest of the state.