Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Caroliner Sinks!

Did she jump, or was she pushed? This is the big question this morning surrounding the decision by Caroline Kennedy to withdraw herself from the running for the vacant US Senate seat. The NY Times is pushing the voluntary withdrawal theme: "Caroline Kennedy announced early Thursday that she was withdrawing from consideration for the vacant Senate seat in New York, startling the state’s political world after weeks in which she was considered a top contender for the post. Ms. Kennedy on Wednesday called Gov. David A. Paterson, who will choose a successor to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, to inform him that she was no longer interested."

On the other hand, the NY Post sees her withdrawal as a face saving measure-coming after the governor privately let it be known that he wasn't going to be selecting the Princess of Camelot: "While she cited "personal reasons," which some said was about the Massachusetts senator, others said she made her move after it became clear Paterson likely wasn't going to pick her. Several sources said the governor, who has sole power to replace Clinton, was unimpressed with how the daughter of John F. Kennedy handled media interviews and private sessions with various officials. Three sources said Paterson had conveyed to Kennedy on Tuesday that she wasn't likely to get picked."

Whatever the reason, and the speculation will continue for a good long time, her leaving is welcome in this corner. Rarely has someone so unqualified for an office been hyped with such undeserved encomiums; and the fact that Kennedy was being pushed from behind the scenes by that great populist Michael Bloomberg, only added to the egregiousness of the entire effort. The NY Daily News underscores this: "An intensely private person with no experience in public office, Kennedy shocked New York political circles when she first threw her name into the ring about six weeks ago with the backing of Mayor Bloomberg and his political deputy, Kevin Sheekey. But she endured a rough public rollout, including an ill-received upstate swing and a round of heavily criticized media interviews."

All of this last minute scrambling serves to further paint the governor in an unflattering light-bumbling along with no clear direction. As the Times points out: "The Paterson administration scrambled to respond to the news, providing contradictory answers to reporters’ questions. Just before 7 p.m. Wednesday, Errol Cockfield, Mr. Paterson’s press secretary, said the governor had dismissed reports that Ms. Kennedy was withdrawing as “just the rumor of the day.” More than an hour later, Mr. Cockfield asked that that statement not be published, and suggested that more information would be provided by the governor’s office. But neither he nor the governor’s communications director, Risa B. Heller, would respond to further questions about Ms. Kennedy."

Let's hope that this is all misdirection-and that the withdrawal was purely a face saving for the Kennedys; because, it is our belief that both New York and its governor are better off this morning-and by all means let's take Michael Daley's advice and appoint Kennedy New York's "special envoy," whatever that means. Daley feels that we need to have someone who can help our state get into the good graces of the new president: "Maybe our mayor can now make her a kind of special city envoy to Washington in these difficult times ahead. She will still have a deep connection with our new President, one of whose daughters now sleeps in Caroline's old room at the White House. Obama has repeatedly spoken of his deep connection with Caroline, his admiration not just for her family but also for her as a writer and an advocate and a mother. His feelings for New York are not so glowing, unless they have brightened considerably since he lived here."

Oh, why not? She really belongs in the world of special-$1 dollar a year-ambassadors; and can we now stop hearing the following phony obeisance to the royal princess? "Now that he has been elected, she shows him a different New York, one of wealth with responsibility, of those who seek to bridge the divides of class and race. On her part, she recognized in Obama her father's spirit. She ventured from a life of carefully tended privacy with the hope of joining this Newest Frontier. Her father's inaugural address told us to ask what we can do for our country."

Is Daley writing this himself? New York, like all of the states of the union, needs the help of the federal government-and has good representatives who have been elected to go get that for us. On the other hand, we also need a healthy dose of self reliance; and we need leaders to make the tough choices that will lead to fiscal solvency and a stronger state government.

If David Paterson himself pulled the plug on the Princess Diaries, it is indicative of an independence of will that may very well stand New York in good stead in the challenges ahead. Leadership is about making tough choices, and the decision to jettison Caroline-if that is what in fact it was, is a sign of strong leadership.

Paterson should clarify this when he announces his choice this Saturday. New Yorkers will respond to someone who resists the toffs and the swells, and makes his choice based, not on connections and celebrity, but on experience and proven ability.