ALBANY, N.Y. - Caroline Kennedy's mysteriously abrupt decision to abandon her Senate bid gave rise to an ugly swirl of accusations Thursday and feverish speculation over whether she jumped or was pushed.
The 51-year-old daughter of President John F. Kennedy was widely considered a front-runner for the Senate seat until she sent a midnight e-mail to reporters and Gov. David Paterson saying she was withdrawing for what she described only as personal reasons.
Even though many Democrats had thought Paterson was going to appoint Kennedy any day now, a person close to the governor said Thursday that Paterson had no intention of picking her because he believed she handled herself poorly in introducing herself as a candidate.
The person also said there were concerns about possible tax problems for Kennedy, a potential "nanny problem" involving a housekeeper, and media rumors that her marriage was on the rocks. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he said he wasn't authorized to speak for the governor, would not elaborate.
Kennedy spokesman Stefan Friedman would not detail her reasons for withdrawing, but complained: "This kind of mudslinging demeans that process and all those involved."
The state tax department said it could not find any problems with Kennedy's tax records. In a December interview, she denied she had any "nannygate" problem and said that her husband, Edwin Schlossberg, was very supportive and that they lived together with their children.
In recent weeks, the media gossip Web site Gawker and Vanity Fair have published rumors that Kennedy's marriage was in trouble.
On Thursday, Paterson issued a statement in which he said Kennedy's decision "was hers alone," and he added that no information gathered during the selection process "created a necessity for any candidate to withdraw." He is expected to announce his choice for the Senate on Friday.
Kennedy's withdrawal unfolded in almost comically chaotic fashion.
She called the governor around midday Wednesday and told him she was having second thoughts about the job, the person close to Paterson said. After several hours in which the governor's staff could not find her to discuss the matter, she told the governor she would remain in contention, the person said. Then, an hour later, came the midnight e-mail.
People close to the governor were clearly angry at Kennedy over the confusion.
"The question is, did she jump or was she pushed?" said Maurice Carroll of the Quinnipiac University poll.
A person close to Kennedy denied her "personal reasons" were concerns about the health of her uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy, who is suffering from a cancerous brain tumor discovered last summer. The person wasn't authorized to disclose the conversation between Kennedy and the governor and spoke on condition of anonymity.
It has been known for months that the prognosis was grave.
"I don't think it was Sen. Kennedy's health, because that doesn't seem to be anything that's changed dramatically," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College poll that tracks New York politics. "I think that it may have been that she found out that she was going to be rejected and was given the option to avoid. She may have found the process increasingly dissatisfying. And given that she has been a private person, the last few weeks weren't pleasant."
"My guess," Miringoff said, "is it was a combination of all of the above. But we don't know."
Kennedy, an author, lawyer and fundraiser for New York City schools, was bitterly criticized in the past few weeks for holding reporters at bay during her early public forays, then was ridiculed for interviews in which she gave halting, rambling answers littered with "you know" and "um."
Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College, called Kennedy's withdrawal "bizarre and ultimately embarrassing" to her and Paterson.
Among those who are still said to be in the running for the Senate seat left vacant by Hillary Rodham Clinton's appointment as secretary of state are New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Reps. Kirsten Gillibrand, Carolyn Maloney and Brian Higgins, and Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi.
Political scientist Gerald Benjamin of the State University of New York at New Paltz said Paterson may have simply been pressured by the party to go with a more experienced figure than Kennedy, who has never held office.
"I think that Democrats in public life were resistant — and rightly so — to the pre-emption of a major prize by a person not 'bloodied in the arena' without an election," Benjamin said, borrowing a line from Theodore Roosevelt.
The seat was once held by Kennedy's slain uncle, Bobby Kennedy. Her initial announcement that she wanted the seat was met with both excitement from supporters and skepticism from those who maintained that she was simply trading on her famous name.
"I believe she's made a prudent and wise decision," said Robert McClure, a political science professor at Syracuse University. "This is a person, from all accounts, of talent, dedication and character. But I saw no evidence that she was prepared for the public life that the high office of U.S. senator requires."
But don't count her out of politics.
"She's got an aura that, it seems to me, can be polished up better than most of us," he said. "She could still be a formidable political opponent."