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Kelli Conlin Headshot

Here We Go Again

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You may have heard this before: A highly intelligent lawyer with a strong political background, a commitment to public service and a track record to prove it, tosses her hat into the ring for political office. And instead of being treated with the respect she deserves -- and the esteem that she would bring to the office -- she is instead derided for a perceived lack of political experience.

Eight years ago the criticism today being aimed at Caroline Kennedy was leveled at Hillary Clinton. Her experience didn't count, she was being presumptuous, and she needed to wait her turn. Well, we all know how that story turned out: Hillary became a New York Senator to be reckoned with. It is, in fact, her inspiring legacy that makes the selection of her successor so critical.

I am repeatedly asked if her replacement need be a woman. Repeatedly, I have said no, it need not; her replacement must be someone who can fill the gap being left behind by Senator Clinton, someone who will be a staunch advocate for New York State and a national leader in many important arenas, including women's rights and reproductive health.

That having been said, I am dismayed at the uneven and entirely predictable treatment of Caroline and too many women who seek political office: their experience is discounted, their skills ignored, their connections derided and their motives questioned.

Yes, Caroline Kennedy had the fortune to be born to a family of privilege, but she has spent her entire life fighting for what she believes in as a champion of public education, a lawyer, and as an accomplished author on constitutional law, the bill of rights, and political courage.

In her role as CEO of the Office of Strategic Partnerships in the New York City Department of Education and Vice Chair of the Fund for Public Schools, she created a national model of public-private partnerships for our schools. She spearheaded the effort to create the leadership academy to improve the quality of principals in our schools. Also in this role, she helped renovate nearly 200 libraries, led the fight to put arts curriculum in the classrooms and has been a tireless fighter for the issue of literacy for New York children. She has been a supporter of reproductive rights and many other issues of importance to New Yorkers.

Reviewing some of the criticism of her, one might be forgiven for thinking that Caroline Kennedy has spent her life in exile, but the reality is that she has spent her life in the world of political issues, developing relationships, electing those who share her values, and learning how to get the work done.

Like Hillary Clinton, Caroline Kennedy's history clearly shows that she understands that government plays a critical role in improving people's lives, but needs help from concerned citizens. Her relationships can not only help bridge the private and public spheres but also equip her to work across party lines and build consensus.

Hillary has been a tremendous Senator and will be a great Secretary of State, but our state is losing a powerful advocate. Caroline is steadfast like Clinton, an intellect like Moynihan, and a fighter for those left behind like RFK.

This decision is Governor Paterson's and Governor Paterson's alone. And he has many qualified candidates to pick from. But make no mistake: Caroline Kennedy has the skills and background to live up to the standards of our state's great Senators.