Saturday, January 24, 2009

Patterson did the right thing by resisting promoters of Caroline Kennedy

New York Gov. David Patterson is taking a lot of hits for how he handled what's being called the "fiasco" over his naming a successor to former senator Hillary Clinton, the Obama Administration's new Secretary of State. But in resisting intense pressure to name Caroline Kennedy, which included a last-minute inquiry by Kennedy about where she stood, Patterson was doing his job under extremely difficult conditions. Hurray for him.

Instead of being muddle-headed, as he's been portrayed in some media reports, Patterson looks to have shown tough resolve and a sharp sense of assessing the top senatorial candidates' political skills, as this New York Daily News piece shows. Key grafs:

"In meetings, the governor and his aides decided [Kennedy] had no political depth, the source said.

"She had no firmly held views and little idea about why she wanted the job, the source said."

So instead of caving to the pressure from the formidable Kennedy claque, Patterson named a relatively conservative upstate Democrat, Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, who had won her seat in 2006 by ousting a hitherto entrenched Republican.

While Gillibrand does not have the dynastic trappings of Kennedy, she comes from a politically active family, and, in contrast to Kennedy, enjoys the endless meet-and-greet chores that any politician must embrace. Those chores are often dismissed in the media, but they are a crucial part of the compact that politicians -- good ones -- make with the voting public. Eating a knish in Manhattan or milking a cow upstate does not a great elected leader make, but it tells the public that the candidate does not live in a self-created bubble.

Caroline Kennedy lives in a bubble of privacy. With her tragic family history, she's entitled to do so -- but not if she wants to be the junior senator from New York State. In her audition for that job, she seemed to want to keep her bubble mostly intact, deciding when and where she would occasionally step out of it. This is what turned off Patterson, it looks like. It seems not to have turned off the Kennedyites, including high-ranking politicians who could make life difficult for Patterson, especially if he decides to run, as he is expected to do, for a full term in 2010, beginning with a Democratic primary.

By the time Gillibrand is comfortable with her 99 colleagues in the Upper Chamber, I'll bet most of Patterson's critics will concede he did the right thing.

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