Caroline Kennedy Hits Harlem
By Keith B. Richburg
NEW YORK, Dec. 18 - Yesterday it was a three-city tour of upstate New York to meet with mayors and local party activists. Today, it was a trek to Harlem, for soul food - fried chicken, collard greens and cornbread - with the Rev. Al Sharpton.
With those carefully measured steps, Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the former president and scion of the most fabled American dynasty, continued her slow and deliberate entry into the rough and tumble of New York politics, touching base with all the state's key constituencies.
She also today opened up more to the press, which gave Kennedy's initial rollout a typically bare-knuckled New York welcome. After trying to avoid reporters in her first stop yesterday in Syracuse, this afternoon she stood outside in the Harlem chill to answer questions and expound more on why she decided to end her relatively private Upper East Side life to compete for Hillary Clinton's soon-to-be-vacant senate seat.
"I come at this as a mother, as a lawyer, as an author, as an education advocate, and, you know, from a family that has really spent generations in public service," Kennedy said, in some of her most expansive comments to date. "And I feel this commitment. This is a time when no one can afford to sit out."
Asked where she placed herself ideologically, if she would follow the policies of Hillary Clinton, Kennedy said, "I feel like I'm a Kennedy Democrat. A Clinton Democrat. Chuck Schumer. Barack Obama. These are all leaders whose values I share."
"I'd love to take the skills and relationships I have to Washington," Kennedy said. "I have, you know, quite a lot to learn, but I feel like I bring a lot with me, as well."
Kennedy seems to be winning some converts.
Sharpton said there are many qualified candidates for the Clinton seat, but he gushed, "The person in this with some unique skills is Caroline Kennedy."
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), whose district includes Rochester and Buffalo, said she had never met Kennedy before now but has become an enthusiastic backer. "I think she's superbly qualified," Slaughter said in a telephone interview. "I think she has the intellect for it. I think she has the drive for it. And she's got the recognition."
Slaughter said, "I was really quite astonished at the barrage that hit her," referring to questions from political rivals for the seat, and the New York media, questioning Kennedy's qualifications. "I've not heard people grilled like that, like 'where have you been lately.'"
However in upstate and western New York, there is considerably more resistance. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, also mentioned as a possibility for the senate seat, said in a telephone interview he found Kennedy "warm, approachable, very down to earth" and said she had the "capacity to do the job."
But he added, "I stressed to her very strongly that people from Buffalo and Western New York would want to see an upstater on the ticket."
Kennedy's campaign rollout - likened here to Hillary Clinton's 1999 "listening tour" around the state before she ran for the senate - is all the more unusual since there is only one person she is appealing to; New York Gov. David Paterson, who alone has the power to appoint the replacement for Clinton's seat.
Paterson has said he will make his choice only when Clinton's seat officially becomes vacant, once she is confirmed as secretary of state.
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