Another Kennedy In the Senate?

A new generation of an American dynasty with long-standing ties to Harvard may be poised for political office.

Caroline B. Kennedy ’80, daughter of John F. Kennedy ’40, is rumored to be considering an offer to fill the Senate seat currently occupied by Hillary R. Clinton, according to media reports last week.

New York Gov. David A. Paterson met with Kennedy last week to discuss the position and assess her potential interest in it, the reports said. Paterson will name a replacement after Clinton’s expected confirmation as Secretary of State next month.

‘HERS FOR THE ASKING’

Insiders say Kennedy is likely to get the job should she decide to pursue it.

“Rumor has it that it’s ‘hers for the asking’...which smacks a lot of America’s royal family,” said Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Barbara L. Kellerman, who noted Kennedy’s years of work as a public servant.

When asked about Kennedy’s qualifications, Kellerman quipped that “her qualifications are that she is the daughter of John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy, and the niece of Ted Kennedy, and Bobby Kennedy, and so on.”

Swanee G. Hunt, the former U.S. ambassador to Austria and founding director of the Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program, also said the Kennedy legacy could be a tremendous asset.

“I can imagine that there is such enormous respect for the Kennedy family that she certainly has that working in her favor,” Hunt said.

But Kellerman, who is teaching a course this spring on women and leadership, said fame is not a qualification in itself. “The prerequisite is someone who can do the job and who can do it well,” she said, adding that Kennedy’s appointment would be “greeted with great applause from every political direction.”

HIDING FROM THE LIMELIGHT

Kennedy’s interest in the position comes as a surprise to some who know her as press-shy.

Despite the legacy of her father, for whom the Kennedy School and a major campus thoroughfare are named, she spent her undergraduate career at Harvard much like any other student, living in the freshman dorms and even writing a few stories for The Crimson.

After graduation, she worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she met her husband Edwin A. Schlossberg, and then received a law degree from Columbia.

In recent years, Kennedy has been very involved with New York public schools, first running the Office of Strategic Partnerships for the city’s Department of Education from 2002 to 2004 and now raising private funding as vice chair of the Fund for Public Schools.

Though known as reticent, Kennedy took an increasingly public role in this year’s presidential election, endorsing President-elect Barack Obama in a Jan. 27, 2008 New York Times opinion piece entitled “A President Like My Father” and serving on Obama’s vice-presidential search committee.

Hunt said that although Kennedy has shied away from public office until now, her early exposure to politics has primed her for the position.

“Even though she’s been a private person and some people say quite shy, she was born into public life,” Hunt said. “There is simply an osmosis in that.”

‘LESS SWAGGER, AND MORE SWAY’

Many people have reportedly been encouraging Kennedy to accept the Senate post. According to Kellerman, Kennedy’s three children, including Rose Kennedy Schlossberg ’10, may be pushing their mother toward elected office.

“It is said they were the ones who encouraged her to come out and support Obama relatively early, so one might extrapolate that they are equally supportive of her playing a more public role,” Kellerman said.

Schlossberg declined to comment on whether her mother would take the job.

“I think it’s an exciting prospect and look forward to whatever role my mom chooses to play in this new era of American politics,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Hunt said it was important that a woman fill Clinton’s post in the Senate, which currently consists of 83 men and 17 women, but she said that Sarah Palin’s vice-presidential candidacy has shown that substance needs to come first.

“We also need policies that have less swagger and more sway,” Hunt said. “There is nothing swagger about Caroline.”

—Staff writer Alexandra Perloff-Giles can be reached at aperloff@fas.harvard.edu