Why Caroline Kennedy's Senate Bid Flamed Out

From the start, it wasn't clear whether she really, really wanted to succeed Hillary Clinton.

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By Corky Siemaszko
Daily News Staff Writer

By the time Caroline Kennedy finally announced she wanted to be New York's junior senator, her bid to replace Hillary Clinton was already in serious trouble.

From the start, it appeared like the Kennedy camp was pushing her to go for a job she was not sure she wanted.

Instead of a grand rollout befitting the daughter of John F. Kennedy, word of her possible interest in the post leaked out in dribs and drabs.

When Gov. Paterson, the person with the sole power to make the appointment, first spoke to Kennedy on Dec. 3 about the Senate job, he came away from the telephone conversation unsure if she even wanted it.

"We talked about a number of things, and the seat did come up in the conversation," Paterson said.

Little did he know that a few weeks later, Kennedy's candidacy would be over - and Paterson would find himself under fire for even considering appointing the shy socialite to one of the state's prime political posts.

When word leaked out that Kennedy and Paterson talked, state Democrats did not bow down and accept as inevitable that she would be their new senator.

Allies of the other would-be senators harped on Kennedy's lack of experience and her nonexistent political résumé and accused her of trading on her last name.

Angriest of all was state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the ex-governor's son who up until then was leading the pack. His relations with the Kennedy clan were already strained after his bitter divorce from Kennedy's cousin.

"It's awkward," said a Democrat with ties to Paterson. "If she's serious, there could be a serious behind-the-scenes war, with lots of personal baggage behind it."

JFK's daughter had another huge ace in her pocket - she was an early supporter of Barack Obama, who called her "one of my dearest friends." That, coupled with Kennedy's famous name, was more than enough to make her the front-runner in the public's eyes.

"Our whole family would be delighted" if Kennedy was New York's next Sen. Kennedy, said her cousin, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose dad once held that Senate seat.

The problem was that Kennedy, who spent a lifetime hanging onto her privacy, still had cold feet.

"Right now, it's more of a family push than her own," a source close to the Kennedy family admitted.

Then on Dec. 15, Kennedy finally told Paterson she was going for it. She didn't bother telling the voters.

"The lady hasn't yet said but one word in public about the race, about the issues or about virtually anything else," a Daily News editorial fumed the next day.

Instead, Kennedy headed upstate for a schmooze-fest with local pols and said next to nothing to the reporters chasing her.

Mayor Bloomberg backed her and former Mayor Ed Koch called Kennedy "a liberal with sanity." Regular New Yorkers were in the dark about her stands on the issues.

Then came reports that Kennedy had failed to vote in many elections since she registered in the city in 1988 - and that she was balking at releasing her financial info.

In the flurry of interviews, an unleashed Kennedy insisted she would not be beholden to nobody - and, um, damaged her chances by, um, revealing several cringe-worthy verbal tics.

When Kennedy finally had her formal sitdown with Paterson on Jan. 10 to discuss the job, her poll numbers were in free fall - and the writing was on the wall.

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