Gambling on Caroline Kennedy
New York's governor will take a huge political risk if he hands a Senate seat to the Camelot heiress.
December 21, 2008 - 11:22 pm
Astute observers of Empire State politics may be taking cruel delight in the delicious irony surrounding Governor David Patterson, currently perched on the horns of a dilemma created in large measure by his own party.
He remains besieged by seemingly indefatigable forces pushing him to place Kennedy heiress Sweet Caroline in Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat.
A recent Rasmussen poll, however, indicates that while a significant majority of voters like the lady well enough, fewer than four in ten feel she is qualified for a seat in the upper chamber. The gallows humor in this tale is found in Paterson’s Albany history and the very different future he and his cronies had envisioned for him.
Our story, as later revealed by Irene Liu and other Albany reporters, begins in the spring of 2006, when Eliot Spitzer and the New York Democratic Party found themselves in a bit of a bind. The Sheriff of Wall Street was a solid contender for the governor’s mansion, but he hailed from the affluent side of the tracks and was several shades too white for his party’s diversity minded handlers. Paterson, being both African-American and legally blind, was exactly what the ticket needed. The problem was that David held the Senate minority leader position and was a rising star in his own right. He had little interest in being lieutenant governor, a position often viewed as a political dead end in New York. Clearly, some sort of “understanding” would be required.
The salve for that particular wound came in the form of Hillary Clinton. It was no secret that she had been planning a run at the White House and the prevailing wisdom indicated she had a fairly good shot at it. Albany insiders tell us that Paterson was to be given head of the line privileges for the Senate appointment if he would fill up Spitzer’s dance card in the governor’s race. Spitzer himself was already being mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2016, particularly by those hungry for a return to Rockefeller-era New York political hegemony. But with the frisky governor’s fall from grace, Paterson finds himself in nearly the exact opposite position. He sits in an embattled governor’s seat, tainted with the scent of his predecessor and hardly a sure bet for reelection, while facing the task of appointing someone else to the plumb position who will prove a far harder sell than he would have been.