NEW YORK, Jan 22 – Caroline Kennedy has withdrawn from consideration to occupy the US Senate seat vacated by newly sworn-in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US media reported Thursday.
"I informed (New York) Governor (David) Paterson today that for personal reasons I am withdrawing my name from consideration for the United States Senate," said an official statement released after midnight (0500 GMT) and published by New York media.
A person close to the decision indicated that Kennedy, the daughter of assassinated president John F. Kennedy, called Paterson on Wednesday, according to the New York Times newspaper.
The source said Kennedy was withdrawing from consideration over concerns about the health of her uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy, who collapsed Tuesday during an inauguration luncheon for President Barack Obama. He has been suffering from brain cancer.
The news highlighted decades of reluctance by Kennedy to enter the family business.
Sole surviving child of assassinated president John F. Kennedy and scion to a family synonymous with political power, Kennedy, 51, is as close as Americans come to royalty. Her uncle Robert F. Kennedy, also assassinated, once held the Senate seat she was trying to fill.
Other members of the clan, led by JFK’s brother and ailing Senate elder statesman Ted Kennedy, are fixtures in the political pages and gossip columns of newspapers.
But until applying for the Senate seat vacated by newly appointed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Caroline Kennedy had never once sought public office.
A wealthy and intensely private person, she graduated as a lawyer, but reportedly never practiced. She wrote seven books, but never played the celebrity.
Although she lives on New York’s exclusive Park Avenue, she reportedly keeps using the city’s grimy subway, and her philanthropic work and activity in New York’s public education system get little publicity.
For many Americans, Caroline Kennedy has remained almost frozen in time — forever the adorable girl photographed riding her pony around the White House grounds or, tragically, attending her father’s 1963 funeral at Arlington Cemetery.
So there was an electric reaction in January last year when this reluctant political animal burst out of hiding with a stirring endorsement of Barack Obama.
In a New York Times column titled "A President Like My Father," Kennedy wrote of never having seen a president who matched up to the way people still talked about JFK.
Now, she said, "I believe I have found a man who could be that president."
The Times quoted Obama campaign manager David Plouffe this week saying that this Kennedy blessing came out of the blue. "We found out when the rest of America found out," he said. "It was a remarkable thing."
From there, Kennedy entered the political big time as an Obama campaigner and advisor on the crucial decision of picking a vice president candidate.
Then less than two months ago, she threw her hat into the ring as contender for Clinton’s seat, a decision that rests wholly with New York State Governor David Paterson.
However, a lifetime of shyness and lack of political hunger had apparently left the would-be senator badly prepared.
She made the cardinal sin of trying to ignore the media. Then she gave a flurry of interviews, only to get in more trouble for appearing vague and curiously unable to avoid punctuating sentences with endless repetitions of "you know."
Within days, Kennedy veered from seemingly inevitable choice for the seat to target of critics who complained she was being foisted on the public with nothing to her CV but her famous name.
Some even compared her to Sarah Palin, the Alaskan governor who ran as Republican John McCain’s vice presidential candidate and drew ridicule for lack of foreign policy savvy.
The question of her qualifications gained added relevance in the wake of the scandal in Illinois where Governor Rod Blagojevich is accused of wanting to auction the Senate seat vacated there by Obama.
"We need an election, not a coronation, to ensure our next US senator reflects the will of the people," the Republican leader in the New York state senate, James Tedisco, said.
Friends defended Kennedy as someone who embodied the spirit of public service and whose lack of political smoothness simply showed that she was fresh and not part of the existing system.
Analysts pointed out that she had two big pluses in Paterson’s eyes over her rivals, led by New York state attorney general Andrew Cuomo, himself son of a former New York state governor, Mario Cuomo.
One was her link to the Obama team, the other her ability to raise significant amounts of money in coming political campaigns, especially his own re-election in 2010.
But voters, it seems, were unimpressed: an opinion poll published just last week showed that more New Yorkers wanted Cuomo.
Paterson, an independently minded governor, was reportedly discomforted by pressure from the Kennedy camp.
Observers say it’s possible too that Caroline Kennedy realized she had bitten off more than she wanted to chew with the Senate bid.
Or simply that Paterson gave her a chance to leave the competition gracefully.