Caroline’s Bid Ends, Badly

At 12:06 AM this morning, after hours of confusion and contradictory reports over whether and if and why Caroline Kennedy had called Governor David Paterson to withdraw her name from consideration to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate, she issued the following statement through her hired consultants.

“I informed Governor Paterson today that for personal reasons I am withdrawing my name from consideration for the United Stated Senate.”

Kennedy’s bizarre and unexpected exit made for a fitting coda to her ungainly foray into the race to replace Clinton.

She entered with great fanfare and with expectations that were only heightened with her hiring of high-powered political consultant Josh Isay to help her navigate the state’s choppy political waters. Isay, an alumnus of Chuck Schumer’s office and a political consultant to mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had given Kennedy her first public service job and lone public credential for claiming the seat, signaled her preferred status among the political establishment.

In New York, Bloomberg’s top political adviser, Kevin Sheekey, supported her openly. Schumer gave his tacit ascent. In Washington, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid said he wanted her in the body. Teddy Kennedy obviously did too.  Aside from the reported grumblings of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and the more public dissent of some frustrated members of Congress, some of whom, like Steve Israel, Carolyn Maloney and Kirsten Gillibrand, have also placed themselves in contention for the job.

Except that everything went wrong.

She was criticized in the press for a lack of access during her initial public rollout upstate, and she subsequently granted a series of interviews for which she seemed ill-prepared. Her poll numbers tanked relative to Cuomo, the other well-known prospective appointee, even as Paterson seemed to chafe at the impression that he was being pressured by Bloomberg to pick her.

Her candidacy was pronounced all but dead. Then she disappeared from the public eye for a bit, and those pronouncements were deemed premature. Lo and behold, according to Democratic power players, she was the favorite again. That seemed to be the case even as Paterson swept through the Mid-Atlantic Ball in Washington on inauguration night, telling reporters that he would make his pick on Friday or Saturday night. But he also said that he had interviewed Buffalo mayor Byron brown for the job earlier in the day.

Then last night, everything, somehow, got weird again.

Rumors that Kennedy had withdrawn her name started circulating around political circles and corridors and buzzing on BlackBerrys as early as late yesterday afternoon.

The New York Post was the first to put the story on their Web site, reporting that she had withdrawn her name after learning that she would not, after all, be the Governor’s choice.  A short time later, the New York Times put up its own story, apparently with different anonymous sourcing, saying that, yes, she had made the call and was out, but that she had believed that the job was hers if she had wanted it. According to a source quoted in the Times story, it was concern for her uncle Ted’s deteriorating health that prompted her decision. Other news outlets added their own details to the unfolding picture, which nevertheless contained two glaring and key blanks. Neither Ms. Kennedy’s spokespeople at the consulting firm Knickerbocker SKD or the governor’s press office would comment on whether or not the reports were true.

That awkward and embarrassing silence created a vacuum in which confusion quickly spread. Even as some well-placed Democrats assured reporters that she was indeed out, other Democratic insiders were caught completely off guard.

“It is not true,” Representative Gregory Meeks said as late as 10 p.m. on Wednesday night.

Meeks said he felt confident that the “stunning” reports were untrue because “I did some checking, and everybody that I checked with that was credible said it was not true.”

Meeks, who said he did not back any particular candidate to replace Clinton, would not name exactly who he had spoken with. He did say, though, that “the folks that I talked to in the governor’s office that I trust told me that it’s not true.”

“It doesn’t make sense and it’s not making sense to me,” he said. “Where it’s coming from? I don’t know. It doesn’t add up, and when you check it, nobody is saying that it’s true.”

What we do know, at least, is that it became true just after midnight, when the Kennedy statement was finally issued.

So what happened?

Even before the statement, the theories abounded. Among the insiders I talked to, they included the following: Paterson forced Kennedy’s hand by leaking a false report to the Post that froze her and her consulting firm (and, apparently, his own staff); others speculated that something uncomfortable had been discovered about Kennedy’s personal life that was about to be exposed, prompting her to withdraw under duress. In the absence of any information from official channels, it was hard to discount anything.

Few Democrats expressed much confidence in the reason offered for her withdrawal by the source cited in the Times, which was that she did so out of concern for the deteriorating health of her uncle, whose health had been deteriorating for months and whose legacy in the Senate she was meant to continue.

“It’s obviously a cover,” said one well-placed Democrat. “She needed a graceful way to get out, and this gives her a way out.”

But graceful is not the first word that leaps to mind when describing the process by which Kennedy left the race.

One member of the Kennedy family, reached both before and after the initial Post report, claimed to have heard nothing “from Caroline or her staff” about her dropping out. The Daily News later reported that Kennedy’s cousin, Kerry Kennedy, who is also the ex-wife of Andrew Cuomo, had been told by both the governor and Caroline Kennedy’s political consultant Josh Isay that the report was false.  

For his part, Isay declined to comment. And even the governor’s press office was clearly out of the loop. According to the Times, at around 7 p.m., Paterson’s press secretary, Errol Cockfield, said the governor had called news of Ms. Kennedy’s withdrawal “just the rumor of the day.” More than an hour later, according the report, he asked the Times not to publish his prior comment. Risa Heller, the governor’s communications director, was not reachable.

It appears that they, much like everyone else, are still in the dark about what happened.

This morning, a source close to Kennedy told me that her decision was motivated by growing concerns from her husband, Ed Schlossberg, that the Senate job and her moving to Washington would threaten to disrupt their family. Which is fair enough. But that seems very much like the sort of discussion that might more profitably take place before, and not after, a spouse decides to run for statewide office. 


Caroline’s Bid Ends, Badly