Caroline Kennedy’s withdrawal from New York’s Senate scrum has devolved into a nasty he-said, she-said, with people close to Gov. David Paterson blasting the 51-year-old political novice as unpolished and “not ready for prime time,” and Kennedy loyalists slamming her detractors for “mudslinging.”
While the two sides traded barbs, one of the state’s most conservative Democrats, upstate Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand emerged as the clear frontrunner, according to New York Democrats. WNBC is now reporting that they've confirmed Gillibrand is the governor's pick.
The state’s Congressional delegation was quietly summoned to Albany for a noon press conference on Friday, where Paterson is expected to announce the pick—and the governor was expected to begin calling lawmakers personally to tell them of his decision at 10 p.m. tonight, according to one Congressman.
At least one member on the New York delegation—Long Island Democrat Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was murdered by a crazed gunman 15 years ago on the Long Island Rail Road—is raising a red flag, calling out Gillibrand for an “awful” record on gun control. McCarthy said she won't attend tomorrow's press conference, citing an earlier commitment.
Even as attention turns to who Paterson will choose, attention continues to focus on how he hasn't. The firestorm of recrimination between the Paterson and Kennedy camps came after a dizzying two days in which Kennedy reportedly withdrew her name from consideration—then had second thoughts—and finally issued a press release saying she was stepping aside for “personal” reasons.
The governor was particularly irked when Kennedy’s team released a midnight press statement saying she had withdrawn from the race—after informing Paterson an hour earlier that she was considering staying in.
Earlier today, the New York Post, citing sources close to the governor, reported that Paterson’s team rejected Kennedy based on concerns about potential tax and workers-comp issues stemming from the employment of a Kennedy nanny, along with disclosures about possible marital problems.
While people close to Paterson confirmed both matters influenced their decision, they say their chief concern was Kennedy’s lackluster performance during her six-week turn as the world’s most scrutinized quasi-candidate.
“The governor had come to the conclusion she was not the best choice and she wasn’t ready for prime time, given how badly she executed her tour of the state and her media interviews,” a Paterson confidant told Politico.
“She had a lack of policy understanding and she wasn’t polished enough.”
Kennedy’s handlers dispute that account and say she pulled the plug herself and called Paterson earlier this week to say she was reconsidering her candidacy, citing undisclosed personal concerns—and without informing her consultants.
On Wednesday night the New York Times reported that Kennedy was stepping aside out of concern for her ailing uncle Ted, who suffered a brain cancer-related seizure on Inauguration Day. That account was later discounted by several people close to Kennedy clan.
A person close to Kennedy said it was “factually false” to say she had been formally eliminated from contention.
“He had narrowed it down to two to three people - she was on that list. She never got the offer, but he let her know that [she was still being considered.]"
Kennedy spokesman Stefan Friedman called out critics for “mudslinging” in a statement.
Gillibrand, 42, was considered a top tier contender, even before Kennedy’s mid-December entrance into the scrum to succeed Hillary Clinton.
The daughter of a well-known state lobbyist, Gillibrand has served less than three years in the House, but is already regarded as a formidable fundraiser.
Both Clinton and the state’s senior senator, Charles Schumer, are favorably disposed to her candidacy, Democrats say. And Paterson has repeatedly said he preferred to pick a woman to replace the most successful female presidential candidate in American history.
Gillibrand brings several important political attributes critical to Patterson, who became governor when Eliot Spitzer resigned and has never topped a statewide ticket, when both run for their offices in 2010: She represents a relatively conservative part of upstate the governor hopes to woo, she's a formidable fundraiser with connections to Hillary Clinton's cash-generating apparatus and she's a woman in a state that prides itself of inclusiveness.
Still, Gillibrand’s pro-gun positions have aroused opposition in a state where most Democrats, and many Republicans, favor stringent gun control measures. She earned the NRA’s top rating last year and backed a repeal of Washington D.C.’s hand gun ban—even submitting an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of pro-gun groups.
“She would not be my choice and I talked to the governor about it two weeks ago,” McCarthy told Politico last night. “This morning I basically started getting calls saying he was going to choose her and I had to speak out, even at the risk of alienating the governor. I do not believe New York should have a senator who has these positions… I just came through the 15th anniversary of when my husband was killed and I my son was maimed from the shooting.”
Several anti-gun groups, including New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, spent Thursday calling Paterson’s office to urge him to pick someone else.