Ted Kennedy's Circle Upset By Caroline's Awkward Exit
By Karen Tumulty / Washington Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009
Of all the many ways in which Caroline Kennedy's brief and unofficial candidacy for the U.S. Senate was mishandled, one final ungraceful note is striking particularly close to home. Sources close to Senator Edward M. Kennedy tell TIME that his circle — including his immediate family — is furious that his brain cancer is being cited by some in her camp as the reason for her decision to withdraw her name from consideration for the Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton in New York.
"It looks horrible," says one former aide to Ted Kennedy. "It makes him look like he is at death's door." In fact, those close to Kennedy, 76, say that while the Senator is suffering occasional seizures, like the one that sent him to a hospital on Tuesday during the celebratory Capitol lunch for the newly inaugurated President, he is generally doing well. And they add that Kennedy is fully engaged in the effort to pass universal health-care legislation — a cause for which he has fought for decades, and one in which he will play a crucial role as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. (See pictures of Obama's Inauguration.)
"He is crazy about her. He encouraged her" in her bid for the Senate seat, one close associate says of Ted Kennedy's relationship with his niece. "But using him as an excuse, as though things were on the downward spiral, is not going to be O.K. with him ... This will get in the way of health reform" — by suggesting that a key legislator involved in putting the bill together may be incapacitated.
The first reports that Caroline Kennedy had withdrawn her name came early Wednesday evening, and they touched off a frenzied effort by her camp to deny it. Her terse statement, issued shortly after midnight, cited unspecified "personal reasons" for her decision to notify New York Governor David Paterson that she no longer wanted to be considered for the post.
Multiple reports suggested that those around her — and possibly Caroline Kennedy herself — are citing her uncle's condition as a reason, despite the fact that his illness and prognosis has been known for months. The New York Times, for instance, wrote in its Thursday morning edition: "The person who spoke with Ms. Kennedy said she cited concerns about the health of her uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who suffers from brain cancer and was hospitalized after a seizure Tuesday, as the reason for her abrupt withdrawal." (See Ted Kennedy on the cover of TIME in 1971.)
TIME's Mark Halperin reports that one knowledgeable Democratic source says there was another, unspecified "personal reason." The source says that it arose 48 hours before Kennedy fully expected to be chosen by Paterson. Without talking to her political advisers, Kennedy called Paterson and told him that she had a personal issue that made her inclined to withdraw her name. He told her to take 24 hours to reconsider. She took that time on her own, according to the source, and ultimately decided to stick with her original decision.
Meanwhile, both the New York Post and New York Daily News have quoted sources saying that Caroline Kennedy withdrew her name after learning that Paterson — who has the sole authority to name the replacement for Clinton — had decided against picking her. Recent polls have shown that while she was once considered a strong candidate for the position, New Yorkers now say they would prefer state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo — another member of a famous political family, and a former cousin-by-marriage of Caroline Kennedy. A series of tense media appearances and an unusually aggressive behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign by New York power brokers on her behalf have helped damage Kennedy's once unimpeachable above-the-fray image. (See pictures of TIME's J.F.K. covers.)
Those close to the Kennedy family are appalled at how Caroline's brief political career has fared. "Everything that was special about her got stripped away," says one. But this source, among others, says Caroline, an intensely private person who has made her impact largely through charity and volunteer projects, may not in fact be suited to the rough-and-tumble family business. (See pictures of J.F.K.'s presidential campaign.)
A spokesman for Caroline Kennedy has not returned requests for an explanation. Paterson has indicated that he will appoint a replacement for Clinton later this week.
I hate to say it, but I kind of agree with old Ted on this one. I think Paterson was leaning towards Cumo and Caroline jumped on an oppurtunity to get out now, while still keeping her name viable for the future by implying that it was because of Uncle Ted's health.