Bloomberg Maneuvers to Crown a Kennedy

Who's Caroline's daddy?

Bloomberg's ballyhooed switch to Independent in 2007 for a contemplated presidential run could prove a precursor to a 2009 reversion to the Democrat he was before he entered politics. His term limits play and the Kennedy campaign, if successful, will solidify his position for the 2009 election so much that it could force the two major Democratic contenders, Thompson and Congressman Anthony Weiner, out of the race. Then Bloomberg might well run in a Democratic primary against nominal opponents, with or without changing his registration (three of the five city party leaders can allow a non-Democrat to run). Under those circumstances, Senator Caroline Kennedy would not have to decline to comment about whether she will support the Democratic candidate in 2009, as her handlers recently did, nor would she have to adopt the device that she "fully expects" to back the Democrat, as the same spinners subsequently announced. She could simply endorse her patron, New Democrat Mike Bloomberg.


As candid as Bloomberg was early in his public life, he is now just another player, moving from evasion to spin to falsehood. In fact, the best argument now against renewing the state law that granted Bloomberg control over the school system, which expires in 2009, is the wholesale political exploitation of the Department of Education by Bloomberg to advance Kennedy's candidacy, including the crafting of a fable of a résumé.

While the mayor doggedly maintains at press conferences that he favors no Senate candidate, his consigliere, Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey—who shamelessly intends to draw his $196,574 public salary in 2009 even as he continues to act as the mayor's chief political adviser—has been tightrope-walking ethics laws to promote Kennedy's candidacy right out of his City Hall office, hosting meetings and dialing up backers in apparent violation of Conflict of Interest Board Rule 1-13, which bars the use of city resources "for non-City purposes," as well as "the performance of private activities" on city time. (It's also a charter violation for Bloomberg to "request any subordinate public servant to engage in a political campaign.") With Sheekey, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, and Bloomberg's consultant, Isay, driving the Kennedy candidacy, Bloomberg's public professions of neutrality are a contemptuous joke.

Caroline Kennedy and her barker, Mike Bloomberg
Paul Hawthorne/Staff
Caroline Kennedy and her barker, Mike Bloomberg

Sheekey's New Year's Eve accusation that Paterson would be guilty of "political malpractice" if he picked anyone but Kennedy was based, astonishingly, on the assumption that she alone among the major Democrats under consideration backed Obama and that the president "has an obligation" to help Kennedy if she is senator. "We need help from our new president," Sheekey observed, citing the budget gaps, as if Obama would only deliver if asked by a senator who endorsed him. This silly argument—especially coming from someone who works for a mayor who didn't support Obama—somehow gained traction in media commentaries.

The architect of Bloomberg's two-year presidential operation, Sheekey went on to take to task "the entire New York political establishment" for supporting Clinton and opposing Obama. He noted that "many of them traveled to Iowa to do it," a reference that Paterson himself could hardly find endearing. Paterson's Clinton-financed trip there was with a woman he subsequently acknowledged had been his lover ("I-had-sex-with-that-woman-but-not-on-that-trip" was his defense). Sheekey's attack on New York Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton (similarly, every Illinois Democrat backed Obama) is the sort of slapstick that would boomerang on any political operative measured by the wisdom of his words, rather than the depth of his candidate's wallet. But Sheekey, like Bloomberg, still gets master-of-the-universe stroking in the media.

Klein made a national appearance on CBS for Kennedy and even penned an op-ed for CNN.com that championed her candidacy, which was reprinted in a newsletter published by the Department of Education. Because Kennedy's 22-month stint between 2002 and 2004 as Klein's chief executive of the newly created Office of Strategic Partnerships is the only job she's ever held—a (very) part-time, $1-a-year position—the chancellor is literally the only employer she can turn to for a recommendation letter.

His gushing has been so embarrassing that even Kennedy has tried to play it down. According to the Times, Klein "credited her with bringing in a $51 million gift from the Gates Foundation," the largest donation in school system history. But Tom Vander Ark, a nationally renowned educator who ran the Gates program and made the grant, told the Voice that "she didn't have anything to do with it." Asked what her role was in another $50 million in smaller grants that Gates gave the city between 2003 and 2005, Vander Ark, who is hardly a Klein enemy and praised him for his innovation, said: " 'None' would be an overstatement."

Within moments of the Voice posting Vander Ark's comments on our website last month, Klein's spokesman, David Cantor, called to offer a strange clarification. He said that "no one was saying" that Kennedy had done "the heavy lifting" on this grant, conceding, as two Voice blog posts had contended, that another Klein executive, Michele Cahill, had actually done that grant work. But he contended that "the Gates people insisted that Caroline be the face" at the announcement, prompted by the fact that Klein himself, as a Justice Department attorney, had brought a successful antitrust lawsuit against Bill Gates's Microsoft. That was hardly inconsistent with the thrust of the Voice blog posts, which contended that her DOE role was simply to add an aura and presence to Klein's fundraising efforts, making it less a measure of her performance than another salute to her lineage.

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