By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 22, 2009
NEW YORK, Jan. 22 -- Caroline Kennedy, daughter of slain President John F. Kennedy and scion to the political dynasty, withdrew her name from the list of contenders for the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton, hours after Clinton was sworn in as secretary of state late Wednesday.
A Kennedy spokesman, Stefan Friedman, e-mailed a statement to news organizations attributed to Kennedy that said: "I informed Governor Paterson today that for personal reasons I am withdrawing my name from consideration for the United States Senate." New York Gov. David A. Paterson had planned to make the appointment by Saturday.
The statement, released just after midnight, came after hours of confusion -- and angry recriminations -- over whether Kennedy intended to seek the appointment. Some New York media had begun reporting her withdrawal earlier in the evening, but Kennedy family confidants angrily dismissed the reports as smears aimed at undermining her chances.
In a sign of the confusion over Kennedy's intentions, the Associated Press first reported she was withdrawing, based on unnamed sources, then later issued a correction saying Kennedy was determined to run, according to persons close to her. The AP reversed itself again when the statement from Friedman emerged.
Kennedy's withdrawal comes after an uneven entry into the rough-and-tumble of New York politics.
She started out as a perceived front-runner with a famous name and a link to President Obama; her enthusiastic endorsement of Obama helped propel his candidacy at a crucial time, and she later was a member of his vice presidential search committee.
But after first avoiding the press, then holding a series of halting interviews and giving vague answers, Kennedy's front-runner status diminished somewhat. She also appeared resistant to opening her finances to scrutiny, lending to the view that after largely avoiding the spotlight for most of her life, she was only a reluctant candidate for public life.
Recent polls showed New Yorkers favored state Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo for the appointment over Kennedy.
Cuomo is also the scion of a Democratic dynasty -- his father, Mario M. Cuomo, was a three-term New York governor; Andrew Cuomo was a Clinton administration Cabinet official. The contest for the prized Senate seat soon turned into a sometimes vicious inter-family squabble, with an added personal dimension of bitterness -- Andrew Cuomo was married to Caroline Kennedy's cousin Kerry Kennedy until 2003, when the two had a contentious and public divorce that included tabloid-fueled accusations of infidelity.
Besides Cuomo, the other leading candidates for the seat include several members of the New York congressional delegation, including Rep. Kirstin Gillibrand, who comes from a conservative Upstate district, and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, who represents the East Side of Manhattan.
Also mentioned have been Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi and Randi Weingarten, head of the New York United Federation of Teachers.
The reason given for Kennedy's withdrawal, according to the unnamed sources speaking to the New York media, was the deteriorating health of her uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who has brain cancer. Sen. Kennedy's health situation came into sharp focus during an inaugural luncheon for Obama on Tuesday, during which he suffered a seizure and was taken to a hospital.
Sen. Kennedy, 76, was released today from Washington Hospital Center after staying overnight for observation. His doctors said he had suffered simple exhaustion after attending Obama's swearing-in ceremony. He was said to be resting at his Washington home.
On Wednesday evening, some of Caroline Kennedy's friends had expressed disbelief that she would drop out of the race because of her uncle's health.
Maura Moynihan, a roommate of Caroline Kennedy's at Harvard and a daughter of the late New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, said she doubted Caroline Kennedy would withdraw from contention for the seat.
"Without question, Caroline is totally concerned about the health of Senator Kennedy -- we all love Senator Kennedy and we're all concerned," said Moynihan. "But Caroline is a very strong and gifted woman, and I'm sure her uncle Ted would want nothing more than to see her in his brother's seat in the United States Senate." Robert F. Kennedy held the seat in the 1960s before he was assassinated while running for president.