My old friend Jeff called me up the other day, and as always, the conversation turned to politics. With Hillary Clinton leaving the Senate to be Secretary of State that meant that Governor David Paterson is going to have to find someone to fill the seat for the next two years, and the guessing game has begun to dominate local conversation. I asked him what he thought about Caroline Kennedy. He was furious at the mere mention of the name.
"She doesn't have any qualifications." he fumed, "Just because she's a Kennedy doesn't mean that she deserves to get the job on a silver platter."
He mentioned that his wife and most of the other Democrats he knows in the Rochester area (Rochester is on Lake Ontario and is about as upstate as you can get without being in Canada) agree with him. The Republicans are even less supportive, Upstate New York is not Massachusetts, and the Kennedys are extremely unpopular. Nobody has anything against Caroline personally, except maybe Hillary Clinton, but they do have something against the City. The Upstate/Downstate divide, which is somewhere between Sleepy Hollow and Peekskill, has always been cultural division more than anything else. They own the water supply (which was paid for with hard money back in the 19th century), and the people who live in the 70% of the state above Westchester Country, have never quite understood that Westchester, Long Island and the City have 60% of the population. New York is really three states, and there are only two senators to go around. They want one. Then there's another problem with who gets what...
Some people think that the worst state government in the Union just has to be Alabama or Mississippi or some other state in the southland. They can be pretty bad, but none of them are as bad as New York. We have a bunch of morons in the legislature who haven't done a damn thing since Rockefeller was governor decades ago. The Republicans have controlled the state Senate for seventy years, and though we're finally going to get rid of them, there's still a major problem: The Democrats in the Assembly are just as bad. New York is one of the most badly governed states in the Union, and most of our statewide elected officials haven't been elected to the positions they hold.
This is something Governor Paterson, who's one of these "unelected" officials (the Lt. Governor is like the Vice President, he isn't elected on his own) has to take into account when he appoints a successor to Hillary Clinton
Outside of Caroline Kennedy, each of the possibilities for Hillary Clinton's seat has drawbacks. The Blacks don't want a Hispanic, the Hispanics don't want a Black, Upstaters don't want a downstater and the downstaters know that an upstater won't do a damn thing to help the City or Long Island.
Then there's the dynastic question. Detractors of the "Princess Caroline" idea don't remember that Paterson himself got where he is to some extent with the help of his dad, a long-time Harlem pol, and Andrew Cuomo, one of the short-listers, is the son of Governor himself and a former Kennedy in-law. Also, Cuomo is loathed by many in the State, and if Paterson gave him the job, the state would have no statewide elected officials in Albany for a whole two years.
What is needed is a placeholder who can be able to get around being 100th out of 100 in seniority (Clinton won't resign her seat until she's confirmed, and that won't be until Jan. 20th, almost three weeks after the new Congress takes office). With Obama owing her for her timely endorsement and her Uncle Ted having seniority coming out of his armpits, a Senator Caroline will be able to get some stuff done while the New York State Democratic Party gets it's act together for the election of 2010. A Senator Adolfo Carrion Jr. or Mark Green would be an invisible freshman with no seniority who couldn't do all that much for the state. A star can, at least for a while.