Opinion

Open up, Caroline

For many Americans 50 and older, Caroline Kennedy's bid for the U.S. Senate creates a sense of nostalgia.

The nation seemed young and full of unlimited promise when her parents -- JFK and Jackie -- lived in the White House. It was Camelot, and two of the major characters were Caroline and her baby brother, "John John."

Now, 45 years after her father was assassinated, Kennedy, 51, wants to be a U.S. senator. She has asked New York Gov. David A. Paterson to appoint her to the seat Hillary Clinton soon will vacate to become secretary of state.

While Kennedy's major qualifications seem to be her family tree and that role in Camelot, she has other strengths.

She has been a member of several non-profit boards, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., the American Ballet Theater, the Commission on Presidential Debates and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. She has authored, co-authored or organized at least seven books, including one on the Right to Privacy and another on the Bill of Rights. She is considered an authority on constitutional law.

She was an early supporter of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and she helped lead his vice presidential search committee.

Her greatest success in the public arena came with the New York City school system. She was hired in October 2002 to overhaul the schools' private fund-raising, according to The New York Times. When she left less than two years later, she had helped raise more than $70 million. To her credit, her salary was $1 a year.

We assume she has learned a lot about the U.S. Senate from her uncle Ted, who has represented Massachusetts there since 1962. Ted Kennedy suffers from brain cancer, and many fear his remaining days in the Senate are few.

Those who oppose Kennedy's Senate bid worry that she's never been elected to public office. That's legitimate. But many people also slam career politicians. Overall, it's wise to fill the Senate with people from diverse backgrounds.

The most troubling aspect of Kennedy's candidacy has been her reluctance to face public scrutiny. She refuses to release basic financial information to The New York Times, including the names of any companies in which she has a stake. She won't say if she's ever been charged with a crime and answers few questions at public events.

For decades, Americans understood and respected Kennedy's desire for privacy. But now she wants to be a U.S. senator -- one of the select few who pick Supreme Court justices, approve the federal budget, and decide whether American troops go to war.

Kennedy must submit many aspects of her personal life to public scrutiny.

Although appointing Clinton's immediate successor is Paterson's job alone, New Yorkers have the right to tell Paterson what they think. They have the right to compare detailed information about the half dozen or so women and men who want to be senator, then offer informed opinions.

We're encouraged she agreed to an interview Friday with the Associated Press. We hope that's a first step toward more openness.

Caroline Kennedy as a U.S. senator would be an interesting choice. But if she refuses to provide more information about herself, Paterson should look elsewhere, Kennedy should resume her private life, and Camelot should remain a fond, distant memory.

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