ALBANY—This picture could have been worth a million words, and raised an interesting question.
There was Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmental activist, standing in front of the bridge that was being re-dedicated in his father’s name. Behind him sat Michael Bloomberg, David Paterson, Bill Clinton and a regiment of Kennedy kin. From the front page of Thursday’s New York Times, Bobby Jr. gestured during a speech in which officials rededicated the Triborough Bridge in memory of Robert F. Kennedy, Sr., the former attorney general and New York senator who was assassinated four decades ago.
“My father believed our nation would be judged by future generations,” he said. “We would be judged not so much based upon the size of our armies or the throw weight of our weapons or the power of our industry, but rather on how well we cared for the least fortunate members of our society, how strongly we protected the principles on which our nation was founded – human rights abroad and civil rights at home – and those sections of the Bill of Rights that protect us against eavesdropping and torture and extraordinary renditions and all of these things and habeas corpus and how strongly we resist at the seduction of this notion that we can advance ourselves as a nation by leaving our poor brothers and sisters behind.”
The rhetoric echoed the spirit of his father, and raised the question: When Hillary Clinton resigns to become secretary of state, why not appoint Kennedy to his father’s old senate seat?
“It follows some obviously very favorable and nostalgic publicity the other day,” said Assemblyman Jack McEneny, an Albany Democrat and historian. “I think it would be something that a lot of people would be very pleased with. He’s really distinguished himself in the field of the environment, and he’s really been very youth-oriented at the law school at Pace.”
An attorney, Bobby currently serves as chief prosecuting attorney for Riverkeeper and is active with the National Resources Defense Council. He is known and popular in the Hudson Valley, which means he could bring some regional balance to a cadre of New York Democratic leaders cluster in the five boroughs. And, as McEneny points out, his appointment would have that certain nostalgic appeal.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I would have to look at it. I would have to see if it would work for me and my family. I’ve got six kids, all in school, so I’ve got a lot of considerations other than my own career.”
But the bigger consideration is David Paterson’s. The governor has the constitutional power to appoint a senator until a special election in either 2009 or 2010. According to Alan Chartock, a longtime state political observer and president of Northeast Public Radio, Paterson has to take several factors into account: who would be an effective advocate for the state, what would be politically expedient for himself, who would work well with Senator Chuck Schumer, and whether the person could bring greater ethno-racial, regional and gender balance.
“It would be ideal for him to find a Hispanic woman who could give him what we call a twofer, and really ideal if she was from upstate,” Chartock said, before adding that he can’t think of a major political figure who fits that bill. “The R.F.K. one I think is fascinating. It also brings you a person of tremendous nostalgia in the Democratic party.”
He also mentioned Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy – a liberal lion of the senate – and his failing health.
The idea should be approached with some skepticism, he warned.
“Every time a major office comes up, including when Andrew Cuomo ran for attorney general, Bobby Kennedy’s name was put up there and it was somewhat titillating,” Chartock said. “He has a background of not doing it, but of course the temptation to run for his father’s place would be pretty hard to overcome if it could be handed to him on a plate if he didn’t actually have to run. So I would think he would be a very good and appropriate candidate for the office.”
David Paterson hasn’t said anything about who he might appoint. Short lists abound. Liz thinks it might be Nydia Velazquez. And speaking of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, he’s beating all comers in a recent poll question on the topic, although that’s in large part a function of name recognition, and won’t necessarily have any bearing on Paterson’s calculations about a Senate appointment.
Another little tidbit on Kennedy getting the seat? McEneny reminds that Bobby’s sister Kerry was married to Andrew Cuomo, and the couple have three children. Meaning the uncle of Cuomo’s children is, theoretically, in competition with him for the senate job.
“It’s a pretty large state of 19 million, but it gets a little inbred sometimes,” McEneny said, laughing.