NEW YORK - Hours after Caroline Kennedy abandoned her hopes for a New York Senate seat, political sniping broke out yesterday between Gov. David A. Paterson's camp and allies of America's most fabled Democratic dynasty.
The two sides offered conflicting claims about the sequence of events leading to Kennedy's pullout and whether she was, in fact, a serious contender to fill the seat vacated by Hillary Clinton.
"The events of the last day illustrate very clearly why the governor never intended her to be the senator," said a person close to Paterson. The source spoke on condition of anonymity.
Paterson plans to announce his selection to fill Clinton's seat today, sources say.
"Yesterday's events were a fiasco, and her entire rollout has been a fiasco, botched from the beginning and botched throughout," the Paterson associate said, adding that some "potentially embarrassing issues" emerged during the vetting process, involving taxes, Kennedy's nanny and her marriage.
Individuals close to Kennedy offered a different account, saying that Paterson had been prepared to offer Kennedy the position before she asked to be dropped from consideration. She issued a one-sentence statement yesterday: "I informed Governor Paterson today that for personal reasons I am withdrawing my name from consideration for the United States Senate."
"She did not have any issue with taxes, no issues about her marriage or her nanny, none of that is even close to in play," another source said. "This woman does everything exactly how it's meant to be done."
Those close to Kennedy said the health of her uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, did not factor into her decision. He has been undergoing treatment for a brain tumor and was hospitalized Tuesday after suffering a seizure.
"He has a serious illness, but he's actually in as good a shape as he's been for a very long time," said Bob Shrum, a Democratic strategist who has been close to the Kennedy family for decades.
Much of the Washington political establishment was dumbfounded by Caroline Kennedy's decision. Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, a New York Democrat and one of the earliest and most vocal proponents of Kennedy's appointment, expressed surprise and "a keen sense of disappointment."
Speculation about who would get the Senate appointment centered on Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, a second-term House Democrat from upstate New York, and state Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo.
Although not as well known, Gillibrand is considered a strong candidate in part because Paterson has said that he would like to appoint a woman. He has a political interest in having a strong appointee because he will share the ticket with the Senate designate in 2010. Gillibrand is a prolific fundraiser and won her House seat in a Republican-leaning district that Democrats would have a hard time retaining if she leaves for the Senate.
"It's a tough seat," said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "We have no illusions."
After contacting Paterson and asking to be considered, Kennedy emerged as the front-runner - at least in the eyes of the news media. She hired a team of political professionals to promote her candidacy with a campaign-style blitz. Among key backers were aides to New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and some of New York's powerful labor leaders. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada spoke favorably of Kennedy's bid.
But a tour of upstate New York and a series of interviews in December did little to enhance her prospects. Kennedy was vague in some of her answers, peevish toward reporters and was widely mocked for her repeated use of "um" and "you know."
"A lot of political insiders in New York thought maybe she could get appointed but within two years she couldn't get elected," said Bill Lynch, a Democratic operative who has been advising Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney in her bid to succeed Clinton.