Kennedy says publicly she wants vacant N.Y. Senate seat

Thursday, December 18, 2008
Caroline Kennedy, daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, listens to a reporter's question during a news conference at City Hall in Buffalo, N.Y. on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008. Kennedy is campaigning for the open Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Caroline Kennedy made public her desire to carry on her family's legacy, reaching out to a handful of mayors and some political leaders Wednesday in an effort to win support for her quest to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton in the U.S. Senate.

The daughter of former president John F. Kennedy hit three of the state's four biggest cities to talk to both elected and Democratic party officials.

In Rochester, Kennedy stuck to a script but started to bring up themes apparently designed to assuage those who question her readiness for elected office.

"I just hope everybody understands that it is not a campaign but that I have had a lifelong devotion to public service," she said. "I've written books on the constitution and the importance of individual participation. I think I really could help bring change to Washington."

Before that, in Syracuse, her handlers cut her off when she was asked what her qualifications were to be a U.S. senator. As she left Syracuse city hall, she spoke briefly to a group of reporters and took no questions.

"I just wanted to say, as some of you may have heard, I would be honored to be considered for the position of U.S. senator," Kennedy said. "I wanted to come upstate to meet Mayor Driscoll and others to tell them about my experience and also learn how Washington can help upstate New York."

Kennedy, 51, took note of the crowded field of elected officials who have been named as possible successors to Clinton, who has been nominated to be secretary of state.

"There are lot of good candidates the governor is considering and he's laid out a process and I'm proud to be in that process," she said.

Gov. David Paterson has said he won't name a replacement until Clinton is confirmed, which won't happen until at least the end of January. The new senator will have to run in 2010 to fill the last two years of Clinton's term and then run for a full term in 2012.

In response to a reporter's question later in Rochester, Kennedy said that if Paterson doesn't appoint her, she will run for the office.

"Absolutely," she said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Charles Rangel, a close adviser to Paterson, suggested the governor may have already made up his mind.

"The governor has privately shared with me his decision to name a candidate and I support that decision," Rangel said in an interview with WNET in New York. Asked when the rest of the state would know, Rangel said, "when he picks that candidate."

A Rangel spokesman, though, immediately told The Associated Press the congressman's comments do not mean he knows who the next senator will be.

Kennedy is the highest profile name in the race to take the seat once held by her uncle, Robert F. Kennedy.

Her upstate outreach is similar to Clinton's "listening tour" in 1999 and 2000 when she first ran for the Senate.

Like Clinton, Kennedy faces criticism because she's never been elected to public office. Some also worry she would favor New York City interests over the rest of the state.

Kennedy's willingness to embrace the public life of a U.S. senator surprised some after her lifetime of carefully cultivated privacy.

A Siena College poll released Wednesday found New York voters are divided over who should fill the seat and that approval ratings for 51-year-old Kennedy and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo are nearly identical.

More New Yorkers believe Paterson will choose Kennedy, by a 31-16 percent margin. Thirty-eight percent said they didn't know or refused to answer and 16 percent felt Paterson would pick someone else.

The telephone survey of 622 registered voters last week had a margin of error of about plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Associated Press writers Karen Testa in Boston, Ben Dobbin in Rochester and Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.

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