Paterson Holds Senate Selection Close to Vest

New York Gov. David Paterson on Wednesday called media speculation about his choice for a replacement of Sen. Hillary Clinton "a little superfluous," adding that talk about his selection of Caroline Kennedy is premature.

"Whatever people say, whatever people want to infer, whatever people choose to think, that decision is one that I am taking very seriously because I'm being asked to substitute for the public, which will give their final verdict two years later," he said at a press conference with New York reporters.

"But it is everybody's right and I won't take it away from anyone," he said of the reports. "But I am going to stay focused on the mission which is to go through the candidates and try to find the best one."

Paterson has been cast as judge and jury in a political drama over who gets to replace Clinton in the Senate. Kennedy has stated her interest in the seat and has gone on a listening tour to rally support.

The daughter of the late President John Kennedy has emerged as the front-runner in part because of her name recognition and ability to raise tons of money for the party. But some Democrats reportedly think Kennedy is not qualified for the position.

The other leading contender for the job is believed to be New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Whoever is chosen will face an election in 2010 and another in 2012 when Clinton's second term ends.

Paterson can't make the appointment until Clinton resigns, which she said she won't do until she is confirmed by the Senate to become President-elect Barack Obama's secretary of state. That can't happen until Obama is sworn in and makes his nominations official.

"What I am doing is not designating anyone which would cause an even bigger stir while Sen. Clinton is still senator," Paterson said. "But I will wait until we are sure she is leaving.

"And I assure you no person will influence me, coerce me or in any way cause me to do anything other than what is my best judgment," he added.

Paterson spoke after returning from a trip to visit troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Flanked by Rep. Steve Israel, D-NY, who traveled with him, the governor called Israel "highly qualified" for the Senate seat when asked if the congressman was also under consideration.

For his part, Israel deflected questions on the topic by saying he is focused on his job as a congressman and member of the House Armed Services Committee.

"I am sure that the governor will make the best decision for the state of New York," Israel said.