- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2008

ALBANY, N.Y.

Officially, Gov. David Paterson’s main focus is the state’s fiscal crisis, not the decision about whom to appoint if, as expected, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is confirmed as secretary of state.

Privately, his advisers say that’s close to true - he’s spending more time on the state’s severe economic woes than on the Senate selection.

Still, while the Democratic governor has said he won’t pick a replacement until after Mrs. Clinton is confirmed, his time also is taken up talking to top Democrats in New York and Washington about the potential replacements who include Caroline Kennedy.

“There aren’t too many people who can command the attention she’s getting,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of politics at Baruch College.

Mr. Paterson has bristled at the constant media focus on the possibility that he will choose Ms. Kennedy, whose name emerged as a potential replacement for Mrs. Clinton early this month and who formally announced her interest in a phone call to the governor Dec. 15.

When she had coffee with a labor leader at a Manhattan hotel, a photo ran in the New York Times. Her visit to Harlem to eat chicken and collard greens at Sylvia’s soul food restaurant with the Rev. Al Sharpton made headlines around the globe.

In the meantime, supporters of a half-dozen other contenders, including state Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo and several experienced members of Congress, are pushing their candidates’ names and records but gaining little public attention - even as they argue they are more qualified and have earned a shot at being New York’s junior senator.

Mr. Cuomo has refused to say whether he’s interested in the job. Mr. Paterson has said he and Mr. Cuomo spoke about the seat, but wouldn’t say whether the son of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo asked to be considered.

“Everybody remembers the little girl in the White House,” said Quinnipiac University pollster Maurice Carroll. Archival photos showing President John F. Kennedy’s daughter riding a pony and playing under the Oval Office desk have flooded the media, jogging memories of those Camelot moments.

That star power hasn’t dimmed much for the 51-year-old author, lawyer and philanthropist, and that has upset New York’s political world, whose players are used to working the local party bosses and supporting one another’s campaigns.

Last week, reporters pored over campaign contribution records and determined that Ms. Kennedy hasn’t donated much to those local and statewide campaigns. The only New York campaign contributions made in her name were $1,000 to New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in 1999 and $5,000 to Mrs. Clinton’s Senate campaigns, according to state and federal elections records.

It’s a different story on the national level, where Ms. Kennedy has donated $28,100 to political campaigns since 1997, according to Federal Elections Commission records. She gave $4,600 to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, $1,000 to Connecticut Sen. Christopher J. Dodd in 1997, and $2,300 to Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign, which was apparently refunded in August after Ms. Kennedy backed Mr. Obama. Other donations were to the Democratic campaigns of her relatives and to political organizations.

On paper, the other hopefuls present a strong challenge to Ms. Kennedy, even if most can’t eclipse the attention she’s getting. Her rivals also are working the phones and lunching with Mr. Paterson’s advisers, touting their experience and records in public service as New York faces hard times.

They’re also trying to press the point that Rep. Gary L. Ackerman of New York bluntly made on a recent “Face the Nation” - “They’re Kennedys. They’re all boats, but is she a sailboat when we need a battleship?”

It was Ms. Kennedy herself who in a Friday interview with the Associated Press underscored the difference between herself and the veteran congressional members and local elected officials vying for the post. She acknowledged that she will have to work twice as hard as others because of her famous name, calling herself “an unconventional candidate.”

To that, former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, New York Democrat, responded: “I think it’s great she understands she will have a tougher time.” The one-time Democratic vice-presidential nominee has publicly urged Mr. Paterson to strongly consider experienced members of Congress for the Senate seat.

Still, when Mrs. Ferraro joined the House in 1979, she had no experience as an elected official. She had been a prosecutor who joked that her daughter knew more about Washington than she did, thanks to a school trip to the nation’s capital.

Now, Mrs. Ferraro argues that it’s no time for political neophytes, noting that Mr. Paterson made it clear this past week that he needs immediate help in Washington to land a stimulus package essential to digging New York out of its historic fiscal crisis.

“He’s right,” Mrs. Ferraro said. “What’s best for the state is for a senator to hit the ground running.”

The question for Mr. Paterson, whose advisers say he wants someone with the political heft to counter a possible 2010 Republican ticket headed by former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani for governor, is whether stronger candidates are being obscured by the glare of the media spotlight on Ms. Kennedy.

“You really need some familiarity with the institution to hit the ground running,” said Mr. Muzzio, the Baruch College professor. “Also, you’ve got to know what you’re representing. And if you don’t know New York other than the East Side of Manhattan, you can’t adequately represent the state.”

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