Ambassador to Japan: Who Is Caroline Kennedy?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy has been a celebrity since the day she was born, yet she has managed to control the glare of the limelight during her adult life, just as her mother did in the years after the tragic death of her father 50 years ago. Although she has continued her family’s commitment to public service and Democratic Party activism, Caroline Kennedy has never subjected herself to the scrutiny of an election campaign, and she is not an overtly ideological figure. Considered a lock to receive Senate confirmation, Kennedy will be the first woman to serve in the post, succeeding John Roos, a technology lawyer and Barack Obama donor.


Born November 27, 1957, in New York City, Caroline’s parents were John F. Kennedy, who was then U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, and heiress Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. When she was almost three years old her father was elected President, and she and her brother, John F. Kennedy, Jr., became oft-photographed media darlings as the first children to reside in the White House in many years. One such photo, which appeared on the cover of Life magazine in September 1962, showed Caroline riding her pony, “Macaroni,” on the White House grounds, inspiring singer-songwriter Neil Diamond to write his hit song “Sweet Caroline,” a fact he first revealed when singing it for her 50th birthday.


After President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, the Kennedy family moved back to their home in Georgetown, but well-wishers and gawkers made privacy impossible. In mid-1964 Jackie Kennedy moved the family to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where Caroline attended The Brearley School and Convent of the Sacred Heart, graduating Concord Academy in Massachusetts in 1975.


Throughout these years, Jackie Kennedy generally succeeded in maintaining distance from the press, whose attention she feared in light of her husband’s assassination, and raising her children in relative privacy without entirely abandoning a public role. In 1967, for example, nine-year-old Caroline christened the Navy aircraft carrier “USS John F. Kennedy” in a heavily publicized ceremony. Living in New York, away from their Hyannisport cousins, Caroline and John, Jr. became very close, particularly after their mother’s death in 1994. Her brother’s death in a plane crash in 1999 left Caroline the sole survivor of the young White House family that captivated the nation in the early 1960s.


Following family tradition, Caroline Kennedy attended Harvard University, earning a B.A. in 1979 and a J.D. at Columbia Law School in 1988. After working as a photographer’s assistant at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, and a summer intern at the New York Daily News in 1977, she “considered becoming a photojournalist, but soon realized she could never make her living observing other people because they were too busy watching her.” At the Daily News, Kennedy reportedly “sat on a bench alone for two hours the first day before other employees even said hello to her”; according to former News reporter Richard Licata, “Everyone was too scared.”


After graduating Radcliffe College, Kennedy worked as a research assistant in the Film and Television Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, later becoming a “liaison officer between the museum staff and outside producers and directors shooting footage at the museum,” and helping coordinate the Sesame Street special “Don’t Eat the Pictures.” While at the Met, she met exhibit designer Edwin Schlossberg, whom she married on July 19, 1986; her uncle Ted walked her down the aisle at Our Lady of Victory Church in Centerville, Massachusetts. The couple has three children: Rose, Tatiana, and John.


Kennedy is a writer and editor, and has co-authored two books on civil liberties with Ellen Alderman: In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action (1992) and The Right to Privacy (1997). She and others of her family created the Profile in Courage Award in 1989, which is given to public officials whose actions demonstrate politically courageous leadership in the spirit of John F. Kennedy’s book, Profiles in Courage.


From 2002 through 2004, Caroline worked as chief fundraiser for New York City’s public schools. For a salary of $1, she helped raise more than $65 million for the city’s public schools. From 2002 to 2012, she served as one of two vice chairs of the board of directors of The Fund for Public Schools, a public-private partnership founded in 2002 to attract private funding for public schools in New York City.


In 2008, Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama for President early in the primary race, publishing a New York Times op-ed on January 27, 2008, entitled, “A President Like My Father.” Her concluding lines were: “I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president—not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.” The only other presidential candidate she had ever endorsed was her uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), in 1980. She followed up by campaigning for Obama, serving as co-chair of his Vice Presidential Search Committee, and addressing the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.


After Obama chose then-Senator Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, Kennedy expressed interest in being appointed to Clinton’s vacant New York Senate seat—which had been held by her uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, from January 1965 until his assassination in June 1968—and began a whirlwind campaign of interviews and appearances. Although she was endorsed by several prominent New York Democrats, she was criticized for failing to vote in several elections, providing few details about her political views, and not publicly releasing her financial data.


Although Kennedy promised to release her finances if she were appointed, she eventually withdrew from consideration, citing “personal reasons.” She did reveal, however, a number of political positions, including support for same-sex marriage, abortion rights, gun control, charter schools, a path to citizenship for the undocumented, labor law reform, and restoring the federal assault weapons ban. She opposes the death penalty and school vouchers, and stated that she “opposed the Iraq War from the beginning.”


Caroline Kennedy has served on the boards of numerous non-profit organizations. She is chair of the Senior Advisory Committee of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. In September 2012, she was appointed as a general trustee of the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She is also on the board of directors of New Visions for Public Schools and serves as honorary chair of the American Ballet Theater. From 1998 to 2009, she served on the board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Educational Fund. From 1994 to 2011, she served on the board of directors of the Commission on Presidential Debates.


Caroline Kennedy’s financial-disclosure forms, filed as part of her nomination, show her net worth to be between $67 million and $278 million, including family trusts, government bonds, commercial property, and eight Cayman Island partnerships, with a combined value ranging from $542,000 to $1.2 million. She also owns her mother’s 375-acre estate, “Red Gate Farm,” in Aquinnah on Martha's Vineyard.


Obviously a lifelong Democrat, Caroline Kennedy has contributed more than $55,000 to party candidates and organizations, including $5,500 to the Democratic National Committee, $5,000 to Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, $4,600 to his 2008 campaign, $4,600 to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential primary run, and $5,000 to her 2006 senatorial campaign.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Caroline Kennedy Worth Up to $278 Million, Records Show (by Jonathan D. Salant & Kathleen Hunter, Bloomberg)

A President Like My Father (by Caroline Kennedy, New York Times)

Obama Nominates Caroline Kennedy to Be Ambassador to Japan (by Mark Landler, New York Times)


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Does Ambassador Kennedy speak Japanese?

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