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Lifting veil of privacy, friends discuss Kennedy
Updated: 2009-01-11 10:57

NEW YORK -- When community groups and the Board of Education were caught in an acrimonious dispute over an arts program, education officials brought in a fixer: Caroline Kennedy.

In this May 24, 1999 file photo, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton receives the Arts Advocacy Award from Caroline Kennedy during the fourth annual National Arts Awards at New York's Lincoln Center.[Agencies] 

The daughter of a president and niece of two senators listened attentively, asked probing questions and proposed various scenarios to resolve the dispute. Under her prompting, a compromise was reached.

"People were pushing themselves back from the table and folding their arms," recalled Stephanie Dua, chief executive officer of the Fund for Public Schools. "She was very good at defusing the situation. ... She has a very easy style about her but she's very sharp."

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The episode is an intriguing glimpse into how Kennedy might fill the role of US senator if she is appointed to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In a series of interviews with The Associated Press, friends and colleagues of Kennedy painted a picture of a reserved but intelligent and tenacious woman who writes her own speeches and who, despite her vast wealth, still takes the subway.

Those interviewed did not provide an impartial view — but, with several speaking publicly for the first time about their relationship, they offered a rare look inside the private world of a woman America fell in love with decades ago as she rode her pony over the White House lawn.

Much was made of Kennedy's decision last January to support Barack Obama's presidential campaign, but she is no stranger to politics. Paul G. Kirk Jr. remembers meeting her at the age of 16 or so, soaking in as much as she could while on the campaign trail with her uncle Teddy.

She was "lively, engaged, inquisitive," said the family friend and former head of the Democratic Party. "She might hear two or three people ask the senator the same question if he was in a forum. They'd get back in the car, and she'd follow up."

By the time she was in Columbia University Law School more than a decade later, her intellectual curiosity, and her studiousness, still made an impression.

"She's the A-plus student who does 110 percent," said classmate, friend and eventual co-author Ellen Alderman. "We were nerds ... the two Type A personalities who had worked very hard in school."

Inspired by some of their law school case studies, Kennedy and Alderman had a book proposal completed before they graduated. Soon they were traveling the country, interviewing people who had been caught up in civil rights cases for "In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action."

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