NEW YORK - Caroline Kennedy emerged yesterday from weeks of near-silence about her bid for a Senate seat by saying that after a lifetime of closely guarded privacy, she felt compelled to answer the call to service issued by her father a generation ago.

She said two events shaped her decision to ask Gov. David A. Paterson to consider her for the seat if Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is confirmed as secretary of state: the Sept. 11 attacks, and her work for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

In her first sit-down interview since she emerged as a Senate hopeful, Kennedy, 51, cited the legacy of her father, President John F. Kennedy, in explaining her decision to seek to serve alongside her uncle Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D., Mass.).

"Many people remember that spirit that President Kennedy summoned forth," she said. "Many people look to me as somebody who embodies that sense of possibility. I'm not saying that I am anything like him; I'm just saying there's a spirit that I think I've grown up with that is something that means a tremendous amount to me."

She also credited her late mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, with giving her the courage to run.

Since Kennedy expressed interest in the job, she has faced sometimes sharp criticism that she cut in line ahead of politicians with more experience and that she has acted as if she were entitled to it because of her political lineage. More than a half-dozen elected officials are also vying for the seat.

Kennedy said that she had long been encouraged to seek public office and that Clinton's expected departure from the Senate offered the perfect opportunity to follow in the footsteps of her father, two uncles and cousins.

"Going into politics is something people have asked me about forever," she said.

She said she realized she would have to prove herself and "work twice as hard as anybody else," and acknowledged, "I am an unconventional choice."