Paterson Taps Gillibrand for Clinton's Senate Seat

Caroline Kennedy stays mum about "personal reasons" that ended her Senate quest.

Jan. 23, 2009— -- New York Gov. David Paterson named the little-known Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate today, but the appointment did not end the mystery over Caroline Kennedy's last-minute withdrawal from consideration.

The appointment of Gillibrand, who has a more conservative stance than Clinton and Kennedy, angered at least one Democratic congresswoman who vowed to challenge Gillibrand for the seat two years from now because of Gillibrand's opposition to strong gun control laws.

Gillibrand's statement accepting the appointment took so long that she missed a congratulatory call from President Obama. The news conference was still going on when Obama called back. Gillibrand, 42, could be heard later telling Paterson, "I'm sorry my speech was so long. I was nervous."

It was a rocky rollout that came after two days of controversy over Kennedy's midnight announcement that she no longer wanted to be the state's senator. Her abrupt withdrawal triggered angry accusations from the governor's office, and shot from Kennedy's office calling the comments "mudslinging."

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of suburban Long Island added to the controversy today by announcing she would challenge Gillibrand when she runs for reelection in two years. McCarthy entered politics as an anti-gun candidate after her husband was killed and her son was wounded by a deranged gunman who shot 25 people on the Long Island Rail Road in 1995.

McCarthy called Gillibrand "an NRA poster girl." Appearing on MSNBC while Gillibrand's announcement was being televised, McCarthy said she had warned Paterson that Gillibrand was "the one person I do not believe should be named senator."

McCarthy also took a swipe at the governor for the way he handled the news of Kennedy's withdrawal, saying, "That is not how you treat people… who have a great deal of respect among the people in this country."

The governor, who had appeared to waver in his pick by saying last week he was certain and later saying he was having additional thoughts, said he regretted the way he handled the long-awaited appointment.

"I think I may have, in an attempt to be as transparent as possible, publicly went through the back and forth of my position," he said.

Kennedy's backers, speaking to ABC News on the condition of anonymity, insisted that the Paterson camp had given every indication to Kennedy the job was hers. Paterson even asked Kennedy Monday whether she would be available Saturday for a public announcement, sources told ABC News.

Clearly stung by Kennedy's last-second withdrawal, the governor's office leaked that Paterson had no intention of appointing Kennedy to the job and suggested that her chances had been derailed by a background check that uncovered tax issues and a "potential nanny problem."

Kennedy's spokesman issued a statement decrying the "mudslinging": "Caroline Kennedy withdrew her name for consideration from the United States Senate for personal reasons. Any statements to the contrary are false."

Kennedy's statement shortly after midnight Thursday. Even with the growing controversy, she has declined to say anything publicly or offer a more detailed explanation.

Could Kennedy Get a Job in Obama Administration?

Time magazine national political correspondent Karen Tumulty told "Good Morning America" that Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., was furious at the initial motives put out by anonymous aides to Caroline Kennedy who said she withdrew out of concern for her uncle. The family patriarch is battling brain cancer and suffered a seizure during an inaugural lunch for President Obama Tuesday, but is otherwise doing fine, according to Tumulty.

Caroline Kennedy's confidantes later told ABC News that her "personal reasons" were unrelated to her uncle's health.

Despite the messy end to Kennedy's Senate ambitions, this may not be the end of her political hopes. Tumulty said that Kennedy, known for years as the "shy Kennedy," may be offered a job in the Obama administration.

"I think this whole episode has shown that maybe she's not suited for the rough and tumble of elective office, especially in a place where, like New York, people play politics with their elbows," Tumulty said.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised if we see her getting some kind of appointment in the Obama administration because she was very, very helpful to his getting elected," she said.

Kennedy's endorsement of Obama last year, along with that of her uncle, came at a crucial point in Obama's long primary battle with Clinton for the Democratic Party's nomination.

The Senate selection has political importance for Paterson, who took office after former Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in the midst of a scandal with a call girl.

Paterson will have to run for reelection in two years and will likely be facing Republican powerhouse Rudy Giuliani. Rep. Pete King, a Republican from the Long Island suburbs, has already said he will run for the Senate in two years.

Paterson wanted a Senate pick who would be a strong candidate two years from now to bolster his chances.

ABC News' George Stephanopoulos contributed to this report.

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