Friday, January 23, 2009

Caroline Kennedy, Kirsten Gillibrand, and the inane silliness of the Senate seat drama in New York

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yes, how inane and how silly it is. And what the hell is taking so long?

It was supposed to be Caroline Kennedy, or so it was thought, given how hard she was campaigning for the job, and given her last name, but she suddenly withdrew from contention on Wednesday, reports conflicting, and since then it has been all about the spin.

The reason was Uncle Ted's health, but that wasn't really a valid reason, given that Uncle Ted has been unwell for some time and that Caroline isn't exactly his only caregiver (and it's an excuse that has apparently aroused Uncle Ted's fury), and yesterday, according to the Times, "one person close to the governor" -- such a vague source, no? -- "said that her candidacy had been derailed by problems involving taxes and a household employee." No details were provided, and there may not be many, but, if nothing else, the (intentional) leak suggests that Governor Paterson's office, with or without the approval of the governor himself, is trying to unload the blame on Kennedy, perhaps to distract attention away from the governor, who seems to have "lost control of the selection process." Neither Kennedy nor Paterson will come away from this whole ridiculous episode looking good, but while Kennedy will at least be able to go back to her private life, Paterson has proven himself to be a weak and ineffectual figure, unable to take charge of the situation. Seriously, all he had to do was pick someone, a Democrat to replace a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. What's the problem?

Paterson supposedly decided on Kennedy "weeks ago." Fine. But then why the need for "a little misdirection to keep the suspense up," as one "Democratic operative with ties" put it? Why the need for so much stupid drama, for so much prolonged pointlessness? Well, who knows what motivates the governor? And who knows what to believe? Now that Kennedy has pulled out, that leaky person close to the governor, spinning wildly, is claiming that Paterson "never had any intention of picking Kennedy," given her lack of experience. Right. Sure. Paterson, or his office, is saying all the right things" -- namely that "the governor considers Caroline a friend and knows she will continue to serve New York well inside or outside of government" -- and Kennedy, through a spokesman, is still citing unspecified "personal reasons," but there just has to be more to this story, no?

Anyway, a choice has been made, at long last, and it's not New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo but, if WPIX-TV is to be believed, U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand of the state's 20th Congressional District -- a largely rural district that stretches along the part of the state, bordering Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and includes Glen Falls and Saratoga Springs.

Is Gillibrand a good choice? Sure, if you want a Blue Dog Democrat who's almost a Republican, a supporter of the NRA (and hence an opponent of gun control), and who has already bitterly antagonized her own party, with one of her fellow House Democrats, Long Island's Carolyn McCarthy, threatening to run against her in 2010.

Sorry, but that's not a choice I can believe in.

So... well done, Governor Paterson. You screwed up the entire process, delaying and delyaing, fooling around, spinning this way and that, and now you or those close to you are blaming Kennedy, who deserves some of the blame but hardly all of it, and, to make it all so much worse, you've apparently chosen a questionable Democrat with close ties to the GOP. If only your distinguished predecessor, the unquenchable Eliot Spitzer, had been able to keep his urges to himself. Surely he would have handled this process more professionally and chosen a more worthy replacement for Hillary.

Well, we'll see. It's not Gillibrand yet. Paterson will announce his pick today at noon. Stay tuned.

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