JFK link may not be enough

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 December, 2008, 12:00am

New York

The Kennedy clan has long been at the forefront of American public life - and its many and varied tragedies have ensured a measure of sympathy.

Yet the apparent efforts of Caroline Kennedy to extend her family's legacy have not gone down well with all New Yorkers.

Ms Kennedy, daughter of assassinated president John F.Kennedy, is apparently trying to angle her way into the US Senate seat for New York - to be vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton, the nominee for secretary of state.

'She simply picks up the phone and lets it be known that she just might be up for having one of the highest offices in the land handed to her because - well, because why? Because her uncle once held the seat? Because she's a Kennedy? Because she took part as a child in the public's romantic dreams of Camelot?' asked writer and film producer Jane Hamsher on her political blog, Firedoglake.

The seat was indeed once held by Robert F.Kennedy, who was assassinated 40 years ago when he was running for president as the candidate for the Democratic Party. And there is no doubt that the Kennedys hold a fond place in most New Yorkers' hearts.

But the Senate job is a highly coveted one, and there are plenty of other would-be contenders, including several long-time politicians, a union leader and even movie star Fran Drescher.

'I don't know what Caroline Kennedy's qualifications are. Except that she has name recognition, but so does J.Lo,' quipped New York congressman Gary Ackerman in a radio interview.

If name recognition is all Ms Kennedy has going for her, it seems to be working pretty well. A survey released by the Marist College last Tuesday showed that she and New York state attorney general Andrew Cuomo enjoyed equal support for the job, getting 25 per cent each.

Mr Cuomo also benefits from the name recognition factor - by virtue of his current job, the fact that he is a former US secretary of housing under Bill Clinton, and that he is the son of former New York governor Mario Cuomo.

Oh, and there is the small matter of his former marriage to Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of Robert F.Kennedy. Technically, that makes him Caroline Kennedy's former cousin-in-law.

Perhaps, he too could lay claim to the Kennedy legacy in his bid for RFK's former seat? He may once have been part of the extended Kennedy clan, but it's Caroline, fondly remembered as a child playing in the White House, who is the real heir to Camelot.

'She is a smart woman. She's very well known. Does she have political skills? It's a big unknown,' said Douglas Muzzio, a professor in political science at City University of New York. 'But for people at my age whose first presidential election was in 1968, there is a certain aura around the Kennedys.'

New York state Governor David Paterson, who has the sole say on the appointment, has not indicated he favours any candidate yet and he has until next month, when Senator Clinton moves on. If Caroline Kennedy is chosen, she will face an election in 2010. And then, as cousin Robert Kennedy Jnr predicted, 'you will see more Kennedys than you have ever seen in your life'.

Tomorrow: London