Caroline Kennedy, the last scion of one of America's most famous political families who, for years, has led an intensely private life, announced she will seek the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
After weeks of speculation that New York Gov. David Paterson was considering Kennedy for Clinton's seat, Kennedy broke her silence on the matter and called the governor to declare her interest.
"She told me she was interested in the position," Paterson told reporters Monday. "She'd like at some point to sit down and tell me what she thinks her qualifications are."
If Clinton is approved by the Senate to become President-elect Barack Obama's secretary of state, Paterson will name her successor.
A lawyer and author who has never held even the lowest elected office, and who in recent years has been known as much for compiling poetry anthologies as for promoting public service, Kennedy has begun a campaign to prove she is qualified.
But beyond proving her credentials, Kennedy must also prove she has the stomach for public life, capable of weathering the attention of her constituents and the scrutiny of the national and local media -- a marked departure from her life thus far.
First shielded from photographers' flashbulbs by her mother Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, following the assassination of her father, President John F. Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy has spent a lifetime cultivating a low profile, dodging curiosity seekers, shunning interview requests and sometimes even refusing to read aloud her books at promotional events.
Friends and biographers say Kennedy's lifelong desire to stay out of the spotlight began with her mother, who tried to keep Caroline and her brother John F. Kennedy Jr. out of the tabloids.
"Her mother was intensely private, and Caroline was brought up in a way that avoided unnecessary publicity," said Ted Sorensen, speechwriter and special counsel to President Kennedy and longtime friend of the family.
"She had no great hunger for public life or the publicity that comes with it," he said.
Caroline and her mother began retreating from the public view soon after President Kennedy's death in 1963, and receded further after the murder of her uncle, Sen. Robert Kennedy, who occupied the same New York Senate seat she now seeks.
Following President Kennedy's assassination, Onassis moved with the children to a home in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., where they were constantly harassed.
"It was a harrowing experience for the family," said Kennedy biographer David Heymann, author of "American Legacy: The Story of John and Caroline Kennedy." "It became a main stop for tour guides. There were tourists and curiosity seekers constantly hanging around the house and peeking in the windows. Every time she left the house, she would have to walk through a gauntlet of people and photographers. On one occasion, a disturbed woman from the Bible Belt threw herself on Caroline and started wailing. There was a real mania surrounding the family, and it caused her to recede."
In 1964, at 7 years old, Caroline threw herself on the floor of her French teacher's car while the two were out for a drive in order to avoid photographers trying to get a picture, according to Heymann.
Onassis later moved the family to New York, hoping to be more anonymous, but the Kennedy children had a constant Secret Service detail.