For several days, prominent members of the New York Democratic establishment complained publicly about Caroline Kennedy. Then, suddenly, it all stopped.
“I think people are about to get scared,” said one aide to a New York official.
The seminal, chilling event, in the end, was simply Ms. Kennedy’s decision to get serious—and go public—with her desire to replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate.
Specifically, she hired a well-known New York consulting firm with close ties to Chuck Schumer, and began making calls to prominent Democrats around the state, including the man with the power to name Mrs. Clinton’s successor, David Paterson.
At around the same time, Mrs. Clinton—Barack Obama’s pick for secretary of state and arguably the only other official with the public profile to alter the neatly presented narrative of the nascent Kennedy campaign—gave what one of her former aides described as “explicit instructions” to her supporters not to interfere with the process in her name.
In one swift move—the hiring of consultant and former Schumer aide Josh Isay to run her behind-the-scenes bid for the Clinton seat was announced, naturally, by a leak to The New York Times—Ms. Kennedy signaled that far from being an outside celebrity venturing onto the turf of a host of more deserving state and Congressional Democrats, her mission was sanctioned at the highest levels of the state party.
“It’s one of these situations in which the renown of the individual simply clears the field,” said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University.
“Maybe she is a better strategic thinker than we giver her credit for—certainly it has worked out,” he said. “I think she has basically eliminated the competition.”
The unofficial announcement of Ms. Kennedy’s intentions followed nearly a week of increasingly loud complaints from members of the New York House delegation, a number of whom also covet the seat (and who doubtless remember being passed over in favor of an outside star the last time a seat was open, in 2000).
The blitz of publicity for Ms. Kennedy instantly overwhelmed those complaints, and at least temporarily collapsed the publicity bubble of the once-talkative attorney general, Andrew Cuomo—also the ex-husband of Ms. Kennedy’s cousin, Kerry Kennedy—who had received lavish credit in the media in recent days for remaining silent about his intentions toward the seat.
As Ms. Kennedy’s detractors are quick to point out, correctly, the decision about Mrs. Clinton’s successor rests solely with Governor David Paterson.
But the powers aligning behind Ms. Kennedy are hard to ignore.
“She has a broad spectrum of support,” said Joel Klein, the city’s schools chancellor, with whom Ms. Kennedy has worked closely, pro bono, in her capacity as a fund-raiser for the city school system.
Several former advisers to Mr. Schumer, for instance, said that it was likely that the company consulting Ms. Kennedy, Knickerbocker SKD, would not have taken her on as a client if Mr. Schumer was opposed to serving with her. The firm’s co-founder, Josh Isay, is a former chief of staff to Mr. Schumer and remains very close with his old boss.