Let me start by saying I don't live in New York and I'm not an expert on the sharp elbows world of New York politics. But what I do know, after 30 years in the public relations and image management business, is about people's public and private lives and how they intersect.
Caroline Kennedy has been straddling a fine line for decades--she has managed to live a remarkably private life while being a scion of one of the most public families in history. Her father, her uncles, her brother and many of her relatives relished life in the public eye. She seems to taken after her mother by limiting her public appearances and attempting to seek a measure of privacy while living in a fishbowl.
Think about it--we knew everything about her late brother--his love life; his test scores; his professional endeavors and ultimately, his death. Ironically, most people can't even picture Caroline's husband; don't know how many children she has; and can't recite her professional resume. And from one who spends his professional life managing public images, let me assure you--this is no small feat.
Most Senators are public people who adore meeting people, shaking hands and the human interaction that is a necessary part of the political game. In just the handful of times I have had the pleasure of spending time with Senator Clinton she has been exquisitely prepared, always remembering my name, and amazingly engaging when in private conversation. You truly feel like you are the only person in the room when you are conversing with her.
Senator Schumer is equally impressive. I met him once briefly at a fund raiser a few years ago and two years later when I ran into him at a private function, he not only remembered my name, he recalled our discussion topics. I didn't and he did. That's what a true public figure and political animal is and does.
I met Caroline Kennedy once backstage at Good Morning America when I was accompanying one of my clients to the show. Considering what I do for a living, I got over the star struck thing decades ago, but this was a Kennedy and I took the effort to introduce myself.
After apologizing for the intrusion I said that I wanted to thank her for all her family had given to this country and tell her that when I was four years old I heard her father speak and not only was it one of my first memories, it was something that would stay with me the rest of my life.
She looked at me like I had just shit on her shoe and mumbled something incomprehensible as she turned her head and walked away uncomfortably.
I am not here to judge her--we all have bad days and perhaps I caught her on one.
But what I can tell you is that her reaction was not that of someone who would enjoy the public demands, ass-kissing and glad-handing required of a U.S. Senator.
My judgment is broader than that of just my own experience. Historically speaking I grew up with Caroline Kennedy--we are roughly the same age and her family has held a dominant place in American politics for my entire life.
Until she announced her intention to seek the soon to be vacant Senate seat, I respected the path of privacy she chose and believed that she was in touch with herself and the kind of life she wanted to craft for herself and her family. Recent events have caused me to question how well she knows herself. If she truly becomes the junior Senator from New York, she will risk the private life she has worked so hard to forge.
My judgment is not political--I agree with most of the positions she has expressed and applaud her courageous support of gay marriage in particular.
I don't like to be too simplistic but you either love life in the public eye or you don't. I don't believe she does. One celebrity once said that privacy is like your health--you take it for granted until you no longer have it. She is putting something she worked hard to create at great risk. Once her wall between public and private comes down, there's no turning back.
There are many paths to public service and knowing of her many accomplishments and low-key activism I hold nothing but respect for her. But, I would implore her, for her own sake and for the sake of the citizens of New York, to look deep within her soul and make sure this is something that she not only wants, but that she is prepared to pay the heavy price required.
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