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Kennedy getting no royal treatment

Her quest for the Senate has run into resistance over perceived presumption and inaccessibility.

Caroline Kennedy talking with reporters in Buffalo duringher upstate tour last week.
Caroline Kennedy talking with reporters in Buffalo duringher upstate tour last week.Read moreDON HEUPEL / Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. - Caroline Kennedy's bid to be appointed to the Senate and extend the Camelot dynasty has run into the bare-knuckle world of New York politics, where a backlash appears to be building against her.

Some observers have accused the 51-year-old daughter of President John F. Kennedy of a series of missteps during an upstate tour last week, when she evaded questions and in one case was hustled away by an aide after meeting with reporters for 30 seconds.

Meanwhile, some New York politicians have complained privately and publicly that Kennedy, a Democrat, is jumping a line of political figures with far more experience and has become the presumed front-runner by virtue of her name alone.

As the process has dragged on, political adversaries have had more opportunities to undercut her candidacy through attacks, sniping and newspaper leaks.

Yesterday, Democratic Gov. David Paterson said the bickering sounded "more like the prelude to a high school program than the choosing of a U.S. senator."

"She's a piñata now," said Maurice Carroll, a longtime New York political reporter and now a pollster for Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. "Until Paterson says yes or no, she's going to be a piñata for everybody to take a whack at, using anonymous sources."

Chances seen dimming

The whole process has damaged Kennedy as she looks to replace Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the nominee for secretary of state, and inherit the seat that her uncle Robert F. Kennedy once held.

"I think the people who are handling Caroline Kennedy's campaign are screwing up," said former New York Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat. "I think it's becoming less and less certain that the governor, who I hope will appoint her, does appoint her."

Paterson has said he will not appoint a new senator until Clinton is confirmed in the Obama administration. He has not indicated whom he prefers.

In addition to being a member of the closest thing America has to a royal family, Kennedy is a Harvard- and Columbia-educated lawyer, an author, and a prodigious fund-raiser for the New York City school system.

Among the other Democrats said to be interested in the seat are state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo; Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi; and Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Steve Israel, Jerrold Nadler, Kirsten Gillibrand and Brian Higgins.

Rocky road trip

Many of Kennedy's problems began after the unannounced upstate tour, which was confirmed only piecemeal by her advisers.

In Syracuse, she met reporters for 30 seconds. In Buffalo, she took questions for just two minutes. But she was captured on TV - in a piece of footage that has been shown over and over - dodging some basic questions from the public she hopes to serve.

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle called the tour a "drive-by visit."

Subsequent requests for her views on basic policy issues, New York, and her finances and investments resulted last weekend in an e-mail written by her spokesman, not by Kennedy. That further rankled some news organizations.

This week, supporters of others in the hunt - and some Clinton supporters still miffed at Kennedy's early endorsement of Barack Obama for president - tossed more obstacles in her way.

Former New York Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee in 1984, said on NBC's

Meet the Press

that Paterson should pick someone already familiar with Congress, probably from within Congress, to hit the ground running amid the national and state fiscal crises.

The bickering intensified Tuesday after state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, suggested that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his supporters had hijacked the process for their political gain. Many of Kennedy's advisers have close ties to Bloomberg.

"If I were the governor, I would look and question whether this is the appointment I would want to make, whether her first obligation might be to the mayor of the city of New York rather than the governor," Silver told WGDJ-AM in Albany.

In a Quinnipiac poll this week, New Yorkers were evenly split when asked if Kennedy was qualified for Senate. Although she had a 46 percent approval rating, 36 percent said they didn't know enough about her to have an opinion. The poll questioned 834 registered voters from Dec. 17 to Sunday and had a margin of error of about 3 percentage points.

Koch said he hoped the sniping reflected more on Kennedy's political handlers than on her.

"Even though this is not an election in the traditional sense, the public has a right to know more about their senatorial candidates than she or her handlers are letting her divulge," Koch said. "She's a very nice, highly intelligent person . . . and has the DNA that will, in my judgment, make her someone who is totally worthy of the consideration she is being given."