Kennedy’s formal sit-down to discuss the job with Paterson, on January 10, was “a lovefest,” another adviser says. “It was, ‘When we announce this, we want to do this and this and this.’ ” Then the governor added some intrigue. “He also said, ‘By the way, over the next couple of weeks, you’re gonna see me send signals that other people are rising and falling, and it’s just cause I don’t want this to be seen as a fait accompli.’ ”
The morning before Obama’s inauguration, Paterson’s black SUV peeled out across the National Mall. After a brief appearance on CNN’s American Morning, the governor had settled into the back seat of his car to rest before an interview with Capital News 9, an Albany-based cable channel. Then, without warning, his aides scrambled, leaving dust and baffled reporters in their wake.
Later, word was passed that the governor had a serious headache. Later still, Paterson claimed to have eaten some bad sushi the night before. “Right,” says a reporter who covers the state capital. “It’s just more drama from Paterson.”
“Welcome to the world of David,” says an elected official who has known Paterson for years.
The intrigue surrounding Hillary Clinton’s replacement in the Senate made Paterson a hot commodity in Washington—and he was more than happy to turn up the heat. He landed a coveted prime-time chat with Larry King on Sunday night. Monday morning, he went back to CNN. Tuesday, it was Katie Couric over at CBS. More than the pace, though, it may have been keeping his story straight that was making Paterson queasy. Just after Obama’s swearing-in, Paterson told reporters that he had “a good idea” whom he’d be appointing. Two hours later, on national TV, the governor waffled: “I’m not totally sure who I’m going to appoint yet.”
Clearly there was calculation involved: Keeping the speculation alive meant Paterson stayed in the spotlight, a golden gift for a man who hates being characterized as an “accidental governor” and a man who needs to run for the office, for the first time, next year. Often in Washington Paterson seemed simply to be ecstatic that his games with the media were keeping the attention so focused on him. But those who know Paterson well saw something else at work, particularly in his abrupt cancellation of the Capital News interview.
“Stress manifests itself physically with David,” a longtime Paterson adviser says. “In 2006, one night, he was preparing for a big Spitzer campaign swing. He was on the phone when he suddenly had a sharp pain in his chest, and the minute he hung up, he dropped to the floor and couldn’t get up. They took him to the hospital. Same thing early in his time as governor—he was on the plane and had problems with his eyes. When I heard he had a bad headache last week and he was feeling wobbly, I knew the stress of this Senate thing was manifesting itself.”
Paterson’s decision-making was complicated by the Blagojevich affair, which made him want to show that he was being deliberative and deciding the appointments on the merits. “If not for Illinois, this whole thing would have been over weeks ago,” said one consultant. “The president, or Rahm Emanuel, would have called the governor of the State of New York and said, ‘Hey, by the way, she is my person.’ Paterson would have said, ‘Great. I’ll do that for you.’ But now Obama can’t call and Rahm can’t call.” And the state’s dire fiscal situation made the appointment process, with its twists and turns, a welcome distraction.
In Washington last week, Paterson cranked up the fog machine once again: He hadn’t yet read the voluminous questionnaires filled out by the prospective senators, and he didn’t plan on doing so until he returned to Albany on Wednesday. “I would figure by this weekend that we would come up with a candidate,” Paterson said. “I would say I have narrowed the field, but have not, just don’t seem to stay with the same pick for a period of time. In other words, I’ve tried seeing how it works with different scenarios, and I just haven’t settled on it yet.”
Soon he trotted out his latest joke: that he’d settled on Michelle Obama. At the time, Kennedy’s camp found Paterson’s eccentric actions oddly reassuring. “We were skeptical, because we knew his reputation for being unpredictable,” says one of Kennedy’s allies. “But then he did exactly what he said he was gonna do: He’d misdirect, say he hadn’t made up his mind, says there’s other people in the running—while still signalling privately it was her.” But the fun ended abruptly when Paterson and Kennedy got back to New York.
Fred Dicker is a legend in New York political journalism, someone who for years has had more highly placed sources—particularly in Albany—than the rest of the state’s reporters combined. So when Dicker’s byline (along with Maggie Haberman’s) appeared atop a stunning story on the Post’s website last Wednesday night, the article carried more meaning to New York’s political class than simply breaking the bombshell news that Caroline Kennedy was withdrawing. The political pros were reading between the lines to determine the source of the Post’s exclusive. And it sure didn’t look like the news was coming from anyone in Kennedy’s camp. It was yet one more thing that no one understood.
The Times’ website followed and seemed to advance the story: Kennedy’s departure was said to be motivated by her worry for the health of her uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy. But that explanation was risible—scary as Ted’s seizure the day before may have been, Caroline had known about his fragile condition since May, and Ted had been pressing her bid. Within minutes, family members close to Caroline were on the phone to reporters, beating back the withdrawal story. Her call to Paterson, pulling out of the race? “It didn’t happen!” one cousin said. “Kerry just talked to Paterson, and he says it’s not true!” Kerry Kennedy had kept in touch with Paterson during Caroline’s candidacy, and, says another Kennedy relative, Paterson had told Kerry in Washington, during Obama’s inaugural, that Caroline’s bid was “on track.” On Wednesday morning, Charles O’Byrne was telling the Kennedy camp that things looked good.
But now all was confusion.
When Caroline resurfaced, conference calls were hastily assembled. Over the next several hours, she debated what to do with a group that included Schlossberg; Isay; Nicole Seligman, her close friend since college, a corporate lawyer, and the wife of school chancellor Joel Klein; Gary Ginsberg, a close friend of her late brother, John, and a vice-president at News Corp.; and Ranny Cooper. Even in the midst of the confusing meltdown of her candidacy, with a supposedly serious personal issue suddenly looming, Kennedy, as always, remained impenetrably placid. “She’s not an emotive human being,” one friend says.