Over the past week, there has been an air of inevitability regarding Caroline Kennedy’s nervy bid to replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate. After all, Kennedy drew immediate support from New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg; toured upstate New York with the mayors of Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse by her side; had her requisite, catered sit-down with self-appointed New York kingmaker Al Sharpton; and was starting to draw support from local Democratic leaders thirsting for campaign funds.
Yet New York’s Democratic establishment is starting to wonder whether Kennedy could possibly live up to the hype. Naturally, Kennedy’s nepotistic line cutting has outraged non-Camelot contenders for the open Senate seat – including those whose claims to the seat are only slightly less nepotistic (see Cuomo, Andrew). But even Democrats who seem wholly uninterested in the appointment are starting to question Kennedy’s ultimate contribution to the party. In particular, Kennedy’s waffling over whether she would support a Democratic mayoral candidate against Bloomberg in the 2009 election has miffed statewide leaders.
Still, so long as this Democratic anti-Kennedy backlash remains at its present murmur, Governor David Paterson possesses a golden opportunity for demonstrating his supposedly unpredictable, independent leadership. However, he must do two things: appoint someone other than Caroline Kennedy, and announce that person immediately. Indeed, insofar as Paterson has tried to keep away from “lobbying, coercion, and distracting information,” appointing Kennedy would demonstrate weakness and – considering Kennedy’s vague political positions and non-existent experience – miserable judgment. Meanwhile, if Paterson waits too long, mounting resistance from within the Democratic establishment will make his ultimate decision – even if it’s not Kennedy – also look like the product of political pressure.
At the moment, there is reason for optimism: according to reports, Paterson is losing his patience with Kennedy’s posturing. But if Paterson truly hopes to emerge from this episode politically strengthened, he will have to do something about it now.