- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2009

With the opening of the 111th Congress about to begin this week, a group of black women is urging New York Gov. David Paterson to appoint Caroline Kennedy to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to become the next secretary of state.

“We wanted to weigh in early, so Governor Paterson has the benefit of our urging him on to select Caroline Kennedy,” said Stephanie Myers, co-chairwoman of the Black Women for Obama. Also, “she can be an important ally to President-elect [Barack] Obama as he works to transform our government in a positive and progressive way, during this uncertain and difficult period.”

But what besides her name qualifies Ms. Kennedy for the job?

“I find that, frankly speaking, if she was a man with the same background, wealth and exposure, questions would not be raised about her qualifications,” Ms. Myers said. The social-networking group she represents has about 400 women from a dozen states across the country.

Michael Fauntroy, professor of public policy at George Mason University, thinks the group’s stance is “a terrible idea.”

“I’m blown away by that” endorsement, he said.

Not only does he question Ms. Kennedy’s foray into politics publicly, he wonders whether her selection would hurt Mr. Paterson’s political future if he bypasses more experienced candidates and “continues to marginalize upstate New York.”

“This is not about gender; this is about name recognition,” he said of the Kennedy prospects. “Hey, I’m a Fauntroy from D.C., and I understand how name recognition can help you,” referring to his uncle, the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, the first nonvoting congressional delegate from the District of Columbia.

Like yours truly, Mr. Fauntroy also sees a little irony in the chess games being played to fill the New York and Illinois Senate seats.

You’d have to be cloistered not to know that embattled Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich momentarily outwitted his detractors when he moved to appoint Roland Burris, the former state attorney general, to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Mr. Obama.

“The irony that you have a clean governor [in Mr. Paterson], who is black and may appoint a white woman with questionable qualifications, while you have a ‘dirty governor’ [in Mr. Blagojevich], who is white and appointed a black man, who won statewide election three times and is highly respected,” Mr. Fauntroy said.

We are traveling in uncharted political waters; race-baiting politics in particular is far from predictable. Mr. Blagojevich’s appointment set off a firestorm that pits black and white Democrats against each other over whether Mr. Burris should be seated, given charges that the governor attempted to sell the coveted position for personal gain. But with Mr. Obama resigning his seat, there are now no blacks in Congress’ upper chamber.

“It is time-tested practice, if you are a politician in trouble, to reach out to black ministers or the black community,” Mr. Fauntroy said.

Still, he is on the side of seating Mr. Burris immediately despite Mr. Blagojevich’s legal problems and the prospect that some Democrats in the Senate will threaten to block his appointment.

Ms. Myers said her group did not have a comment about the Burris appointment at this time.

I think Mr. Burris should have simply declined.

Mrs. Clinton’s seat in the Senate is one of three — along with Illinois’ and Minnesota’s — still undetermined for the upcoming session, which will take up critical legislation, such as Mr. Obama’s economic-stimulus package. The Illinois and Minnesota Senate seats may require court intervention before the potential candidates are seated.

Two other states — Delaware and Colorado — have had to fill Senate seats vacated by the Obama victory and his Cabinet picks, though the process has gone smoothly there. Meanwhile, the guessing games and political jockeying are reaching fever pitch about who will fill the other vacancies and at what costs.

However, Mr. Fauntroy said Mr. Paterson “may not have a choice,” and is being pushed into a corner, most likely “at the behest of Obama,” to make the Kennedy appointment. However, “in the end, [Mr. Paterson] will be hurt most by it.”

The New York governor’s spokesman last week denied reports that he already had decided to select Ms. Kennedy. Mr. Paterson is still weighing his options, but he is in a no-win situation.

For example, a Marist Poll conducted Dec. 8 indicated that New York’s registered voters were split on whom Mr. Paterson should tap: Just 25 percent said Ms. Kennedy, 25 percent said New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, 26 percent were undecided, and the remaining 24 percent were split among several lesser-known candidates. Sixty-four percent had a favorable impression of Mr. Cuomo, while 62 percent viewed Ms. Kennedy in a similar light.

“Other people have been in line and actually doing legislative work,” said Mr. Fauntroy, who said he could pick half-dozen people out of the New York delegation as potential U.S. Senate candidates.

“I’m a person who is big on legislative experience,” he said. So much so that he is still feeling the wrath of those who were not happy with his unpopular assertion during the presidential campaign that Mr. Obama’s qualifications were too thin.

“Qualification is in the eye of the beholder,” Mr. Fauntroy added.

Ms. Myers also counters that Ms. Kennedy has been a lawyer, author and board member of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, adding that she was not a celebrity who sat on the sidelines to help Mr. Obama get elected - “She worked.”

“She has a history and knowledge of the struggle of African-American people from her father and her uncles’ commitment,” Ms. Myers said.

And Ms. Kennedy can bring in a lot of bucks for Democrats, including Mr. Paterson, who must also run for election in 2010.

E. Faye Williams, chairwoman of the National Congress of Black Women and the other co-chairwoman of Black Women for Obama ‘09, said, “I know a lot of male high officeholders with far fewer credentials than those of Caroline Kennedy.”

Where else have we heard that line applied before?

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