As Governor David Paterson mulls a list of terrific candidates to fill Hillary Clinton’s soon-to-be vacant Senate seat, near or at the top of that list should be Caroline Kennedy.
Ms. Kennedy’s unexpected availability could make the governor’s decision much easier. He’s bound to alienate one group or another—perhaps several—if he chooses from among the pool of politicians already in office. While New York would be well represented by several of the potential would-be senators, none has the star power, magnetism and, let’s face it, the magic of Caroline Kennedy.
While Ms. Kennedy’s elevation would disappoint the other candidates, it’s hard to think of a Democratic constituency in New York that would begrudge the move. After all, she would occupy the seat once held by her uncle Robert Kennedy. Of course political offices are not family heirlooms, but there can be no denying the power of sentiment. As a senator, Ms. Kennedy would have a chance to continue the work of her uncle. Even after all these years, so much of Robert Kennedy’s ambitious mission remains unaccomplished. It was, after all, a lofty and memorable agenda.
Ms. Kennedy has never expressed interest in elective office before. But she is no stranger to New York’s civic, cultural and political life. In recent years she has been a powerful voice for the city’s school children, as an advocate and as a fund-raiser. She has made a life for herself and for her children in New York and so figures to be an aggressive and effective advocate for the state at a time when every federal dollar is welcome and necessary.
What’s more, it would be naïve to dismiss the power of Ms. Kennedy’s celebrity. New York has gotten used to having high-powered U.S. senators, as the lineage of this seat suggests. Robert Kennedy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and, of course, Mrs. Clinton have held this seat—and so, during an odd six-year interval from 1971 to 1977, did James Buckley, brother of the late William F. Buckley Jr.
Ms. Kennedy, like Mrs. Clinton, will be able to use her fame to do for New York what she has done for the city’s public schools—she’ll have the power to call attention to problems, and when she demands a solution, hers will not be a voice in the wilderness. True, she may not be completely schooled in the parliamentary arts of Capitol Hill. But these days the ability to summon the press, to frame an issue on television, counts for a lot more than old-fashioned insider politics. And she would be able to attract a top-rate staff—essential for the success of any senator.
Ms. Kennedy holds another card that can’t help but work for New York. She was an early, and pivotal, supporter of President-elect Barack Obama; her endorsement of Mr. Obama marked a turning point in his campaign. The president-elect has said he considers Ms. Kennedy a close friend. That relationship should seal the deal: Ms. Kennedy would be offering New Yorkers a senator who would be able to overcome a lack of seniority, the essence of power in the U.S. Senate. Moreover, Mr. Obama will soon be spreading federal dollars around the country to revive the economy. Ms. Kennedy’s alliance with the President-elect would ensure that New York gets its fair share of the new New Deal.