Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Young Know Caroline’s a Kennedy, but Which One?

Published: December 20, 2008

Say the name Caroline Kennedy to Jensie Farrar, and she turns almost maternally protective. Ms. Farrar was married in Albany on Nov. 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the passage of 45 years has done little to dull her shock or to alter her image of the president’s only girl.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time Life Pictures, via Getty Images

Older voters recall Caroline Kennedy as a girl.

Kevin Rivoli/Associated Press

Some younger voters know little about the woman aspiring to a Senate seat.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time Life Pictures, via Getty Images

“I don’t think she’s qualified,” Elmer A. DeLeon, in Times Square, said of Ms. Kennedy. “She’s using her name to get into office.” Many younger voters know little about the aspiring senator.

Say “Caroline Kennedy” to Bess Goden, 23, and she pauses, working quietly to exactly place it.

“I’m like, ‘Is she a Kennedy Kennedy, or is this one of the cousins?’ ” Ms. Goden, an aspiring actress, asked while taking a cigarette break from her job at the Borders bookstore cafe on West 34th Street. “She’s the one with the brother who died in the plane?”

Ms. Kennedy, who declared last week that she would like to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as the junior senator from New York, is in many ways embarking on a test of the enduring power of her politically royal name.

Interviews with about 50 New Yorkers — people from upstate and across town, people of all ages and races and political persuasions — suggest that the Kennedy brand is rich with resonance. But it also provokes resentment and puzzlement, especially among younger voters, who are suspicious of dynastic politics as the Bush era ends, and are uncertain of where in the famous family tree she falls.

“I don’t know who her father is, but if you told me, I bet I would know,” said Michelle Kuhns, 21, a senior at St. John’s University in Queens who was working during her holiday break at a bagel shop on Long Island. “I’ve heard the name, yes. But that’s it.”

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