A Democratic congressman compared Caroline Kennedy to Sarah Palin, saying the would-be senator hasn't proved she has the "guts and the gumption" to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Rep. Gary Ackerman of Queens said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday that the Kennedy legend and connections won't be enough to make her a successful senator if Gov. David Paterson appoints her to the U.S. Senate.
"Everyone knows who she is, but I'm not sure what she is," said Ackerman. "Eventually she has to get in the ring, and face the public."
Kennedy launched a kind of listening tour last week, in which she visited upstate New York but spent most of her time in private meetings. While some Democrats praised Kennedy's effort, others like Ackerman did not.
"DNA in this business can take you just so far," said the congressman, before cracking a joke. "Rembrandt was a great artist. His brother Murray, on the other hand, Murray Rembrandt, wouldn't paint a house."
Ackerman previously ruffled feathers among New York Democrats by comparing Kennedy to actress Jennifer Lopez, saying they are both big names, but that doesn't mean Kennedy would make a good senator.
New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein defended her as a talented and committed person.
"In her own quiet but very effective way, she's going to be able to bring new ideas at a time this country needs them," said Klein. "I think Caroline Kennedy has all of the right stuff."
As for charges she is an out-of-touch elite, Klein said her work raising money for the public school system shows she is focused on the needs of those less fortunate than her.
Klein said her courage was evident in her endorsement of Barack Obama during the Democratic primaries, going against Clinton, the home state candidate.
If Clinton is confirmed as President-elect Barack Obama's secretary of state, Paterson will appoint someone to fill her senate seat for two years, after which that person will have to run for election in 2010, and if successful, run again in 2012.
Rep. Pete King, a Long Island Republican preparing to run against Kennedy in 2010, said she has "no experience, and as far as I know has never held a real job."
The last thing New York needs, King argued, "is a People magazine celebrity as a United States Senator."
This weekend, aides to Kennedy offered written answers to some news outlets about her positions, in which she said she supports gay marriage, opposes school vouchers, and would not commit to supporting the Democratic nominee for New York City mayor next year. Her answer on the mayoral race is not surprising given her friendship with independent mayor Michael Bloomberg, but it may be problematic as she courts New York Democrats.
Even the way Kennedy answered the questions -- in writing, through a spokesman -- doesn't sit well with some Democrats.
"They basically Sarah Palin-ized her," said Ackerman, in reference to the Republicans' famously press-averse vice-presidential nominee.
"They're answering questions that you have to submit in writing, she's not talking to reporters as she makes this grand tour. They're kind of building a mystique and an industry around her when we need someone to fight," said Ackerman.
"I love my buddy Gary, but I don't know how anyone could compare" Kennedy to the governor of Alaska, said upstate New York Rep. Louise Slaughter, who is backing Kennedy's bid.
Slaughter noted that Kennedy has written about the Constitution, while Palin memorably demurred when asked what newspapers she reads.
As for the resistance to Kennedy even among some Democrats, Slaughter said: "I don't understand it. It's not as though this woman's coming to do us harm, it's not as if we don't know her. I took time out to raise my children, too. I find that a commendable thing, certainly it does not disqualify her from running."
Republicans are already taking shots at Kennedy, even though Paterson's decision is probably weeks away.
Buffalo congressman Tom Reynolds, who is retiring after years as a GOP power broker, said the Democrats have shown problems with senate appointments in Illinois, where the governor faces criminal charges he allegedly tried to sell the seat held by Obama, and Delaware, where an unknown congressional staffer was picked to the seat held by Sen. Joe Biden. Critics have charged the Delaware pick is a placeholder until Biden's son returns from military service.
"We've seen the Senate become a House of Lords," said Reynolds. "We're seeing a seatwarmer in Delaware, a seat-seller in Illinois and we're making seat cushions in New York for kind of an aristocrat royalty of entitlement."