Suddenly, weeks after Caroline Kennedy’s name first emerged as a candidate to fill the Senate seat that will be opened when Hillary Clinton joins the Obama administration in January, the establishment is very, very concerned—publicly—that she might not have what it takes.
On Dec. 10, Representative Gary Ackerman went on the radio to compare Kennedy to Jennifer Lopez. (Subtext: Famous, attractive, vacuous.) That same day, influential fund-raiser and Democratic National Committeeman Robert Zimmerman’s said on CNN that no Democrats had endorsed the idea “because we’re not a state of dynasty.” On Dec. 11, Cindy Adams wrote a column in which she said she knew, for certain, that Kennedy had personally lobbied “decision-makers” for the seat despite not having made “her bones with any constituencies.” Page Six carried an item reporting a joke David Paterson made at Kennedy’s expense at a gala event.
Today, RWDSU head Stuart Appelbaum released a statement expressing concern that Kennedy’s “voice has barely been heard during these long, last 8 years as so many of us have worked hard against the policies of the Bush Administration.” And Representative Anthony Weiner gave voice to what he presented as the Clinton camp’s dismay about the buzz surrounding Kennedy, who supported Barack Obama in the primary. “This isn’t a jihad or anything, but I’d be lying to you if I said that supporters of Hillary don’t remember where she was in the primary,” said Weiner.
At this point, the opposition certainly seems to have all the trappings of a campaign. The leading voices speaking out against Kennedy aren’t presenting it as such.
“There is no coordinated effort,” Zimmerman told me. “What there is is a growing resentment against the political pundits who feel they can dictate the election. The outcry you are hearing is from Democratic constituency groups who want to make sure that their issues and the candidates who fought for their issues are being heard.”
“After the initial voices spoke up about the qualifications and experience needed, that prompted a movement to refocus what we are looking for in a United States senator,” he also said. “Pundits don’t choose the United States senator; in this case, Governor Paterson does and that should be respected.”
But at least one member of the New York House delegation—albeit one outside of the downstate echo chamber—has noticed that the Kennedy critics seem to be reading off the same page.
“About two days ago one of my colleagues said that he thought she was too retiring, too private,” said upstate Representative Louise Slaughter, who said that similar remarks made publicly by Ackerman suggested that “talking points are out there.”
For her part, Slaughter said she though Kennedy would be a fine choice to take Clinton’s place. “The person who gets that seat has to be someone who has great stature,” she said.