If I can borrow the title of a somewhat obscure Beach Boys song, I can’t say that I am thrilled by the prospects of Caroline Kennedy becoming the next US senator from New York State. I have nothing against her; I’ve always liked her, and had a bit of a crush on her when I was six, in the way that I suppose this generation of six year olds will have a crush on Sasha and Malia. I have nothing against the Kennedy family either, the American house of Atreus, ill-favored by the gods, beloved by the American people . But I don’t like the name of the Tri-borough Bridge being renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, replacing a name that could only exist in New York City with a memorial that could exist anywhere. (I have nothing against Jackie Robinson either, but he replaced the other major borough-centric name in the city, the Interboro Parkway.) Why not rename the Major Deegan, named after a nonentity of a Democratic hack from the 1920s? Or the Tappan Zee, standing over a river (albeit a tad unsteadily) that Robert Kennedy did so much to clean up? Or the LIE or the Cross-Bronx? (Okay, they are somewhat dubious honors.) Or why didn’t the Port Authority in 1968 rename the airport the JFK and RFK airport, the way, I am sure, the Illinois-themed tunnel under the Hudson will one day be named the Lincoln-Obama tunnel.) Obama will no doubt have more things named after him than anyone since Martin Luther King, Jr.
But my biggest problem with Caroline Kennedy as senator is simply that I think it is upstate’s turn for a statewide appointment. I hate to be so parochial, but the upstate region and major cities have been stiffed for a long, long time. No governor since Nathan Miller, who served a two-interregnum from 1920 to 1922 during the reign of Al Smith, and who was a cantankerous reactionary best forgotten. Even getting rid of Spitzer didn’t help things, because Paterson, unusually for a lieutenant-governor, was also from NYC. No US Senator, if I am remembering correctly, since Charles Godell of Jamestown who was picked to finish out RFK’s term, only to be defeated in a three way race in 1970 by James Buckley because Godell had the temerity to criticize the war in Vietnam. No Attorney General since the horrible Dennis Vacco, and as far as I know, there has never been a state comptroller from upstate, or at least since the endless reign of Arthur Levitt.
It’s not a matter that a downstater cannot somehow “understand” upstate. Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton both did an excellent job in this regard. Its just with its glamour, with its role as a center of commerce and intellect and culture and just about everything else, everything else being equal, there were always be more downstaters and NYCers who would be natural claimants for positions. I think it would be great if downstate would become acquainted with some of the excellent politicians upstate, such as former Rochester mayor Bill Johnson, or congresswoman Louise Slaughter (neither of whom has been seriously mentioned by the Great Mentioner.) A progressive upstate Democrat would be just the thing the rest of the state needs to puncture continuing illusions about upstate being a pasture of rural hicks. Let Caroline Kennedy get appointed to something, but let the appointer be Barack Obama, not David Paterson.