Kennedy, Sharpton go to lunch

December 18, 2008 4:40:20 PM PST
Caroline Kennedy is no stranger to cameras, from her Camelot childhood to her recent years as a fixture on the New York charity-gala circuit. But now that she's expressed interest in Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate seat, she's getting a taste of a different kind of coverage - New York style.

A throng of roughly 30 journalists - and a few curious onlookers - surrounded the scion of one of America's most storied Democratic dynasties as she visited the landmark Harlem restaurant Sylvia's with the Rev. Al Sharpton for a private but highly visible lunch.

After sharing a meal of chicken, string beans, collard greens, salad and cornbread at the famed soul food restaurant, Kennedy emerged with Sharpton at her side and answered a few questions from the pack of reporters waiting outside.

Asked why she was trading decades of carefully cultivated privacy for the sharp scrutiny of a Senate bid, she pointed to her work as a lawyer, an education advocate and an author of books on topics including constitutional law.

"These are issues that I care so much about, and I understand that, really, I have been trying to work on them as a private citizen," she said in a two-minute news conference. "But really, to solve our problems, I think government is the place where people need to come together."

The late President John F. Kennedy's 51-year-old daughter also noted that she came from a family "that really has spent generations in public service."

"I feel this commitment, and this is a time when nobody can afford to sit out. And I hope that I have something to offer," Kennedy said.

Sharpton noted that he and Kennedy shared the same table where the civil rights activist hosted then-Sen. Barack Obama during his presidential campaign last year - and it turned out well for Obama.

The trip to Harlem was clearly part of a campaign to reach out to the state's various constituencies, including African-Americans.

There are historic reasons why black voters may support Caroline Kennedy.

Her father and her uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, pressed for landmark civil rights legislation before they were assassinated.

In 2008, she was an outspoken supporter of the nation's soon-to-be first black president, comparing him to her late father.

But even some admirers say the Kennedy mystique can carry her only so far.

At least a dozen Democratic officials are interested in the post, including state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a former relative of Kennedy's by marriage. Gov. David Paterson reiterated Thursday that he need not make a decision until Clinton - Obama's nominee for secretary of state - is confirmed in late January or early February.

Kennedy, who lives in Manhattan, has already faced questions about whether she has enough experience to represent the large and socially diverse state.

On a tour of upstate cities Wednesday, Kennedy spoke for less than five minutes at all three stops.

She fleshed out her views a bit more Thursday, mentioning her family, the Clintons, Obama and New York's senior Sen. Charles Schumer as political leaders "whose values I share."

Asked what she would need to do to prepare herself for the Senate, she said, "I have, you know, quite a lot to learn, but I feel like I bring a lot with me, as well."