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Published: Friday, 2/29/2008

In Toledo visit, Caroline Kennedy likens Obama to her father, JFK

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Caroline Kennedy, left, signs an autograph at the downtown library. She called Barack Obama as inspiring as her father.
Caroline Kennedy, left, signs an autograph at the downtown library. She called Barack Obama as inspiring as her father.
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Caroline Kennedy told an audience in downtown Toledo yesterday that a great president is one like her father, the late John F. Kennedy, who can inspire change.

I am here because I have never had a candidate who inspires me as much as people say that my father inspired them.

But I do now, and his name is Barack Obama, said Ms. Kennedy, 50, who is President Kennedy s only surviving child.

When people say that inspiration isn t all that important, that President Kennedy was really about style more than substance, and Senator Obama just gives great speeches, it bothers me.

The generation that answered President Kennedy s call [for] justice, peace, and civil rights really transformed this entire country.

Ms. Kennedy addressed about 200 people inside the Huntington Meeting Room of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, 325 North Michigan St., on the first day of her planned five-stop, two-day speaking tour across Ohio in support of the Obama campaign.

A lawyer and best-selling author, Ms. Kennedy caused a slight stir late last month when she announced her endorsement of Mr. Obama s candidacy.

She has campaigned for Mr. Obama at a Los Angeles rally alongside talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and the senator s wife, Michelle, and continued her campaign work this week in Texas.

The Toledo audience yesterday afternoon spanned all ages, although most were middle-aged, and the majority were women. Some remembered the time that Ms. Kennedy s father visited Toledo as a presidential hopeful in 1960.

I was on the corner of City Park and Dorr when her dad came down in a convertible. He was a red-haired fellow, recalled Zollie Mixon, Sr., 67, of North Toledo.

He was just waving at everybody with a million-dollar smile. I never thought I d have a chance to see his daughter.

Ms. Kennedy appeared to read from a text for most of her 13-minute speech, which touched on the importance of strong leadership in reforming the nation s public schools.

A New York City resident, she is vice chairman of private donations for that city s Fund for Public Schools and has been credited with helping to raise tens of millions of dollars for the district.

I believe there is no more important issue for the future of our country than rebuilding our broken education system, Ms. Kennedy said.

Although she did not directly criticize Sen. Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama s opponent for the Democratic nomination, she made an apparent dig at Mrs. Clinton s efforts to emphasize political experience as well as her 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq war.

When it comes to leadership or experience, I think that the quality we really want is judgment. And Barack Obama has had the judgment to oppose the war in Iraq from the start, she said, stirring loud applause from the audience of Obama supporters.

Ms. Kennedy was 5 years old when her father was assassinated in Dallas at age 46. Her mother, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, died of cancer in 1994, and her younger brother, John F. Kennedy, Jr., was killed in a private plane crash in 1999.

Ms. Kennedy is a married mother of three children and holds a bachelor s degree from Harvard University and a law degree from Columbia University.

Mary Jo Andres of South Toledo brought to the speech a copy of a book that Ms. Kennedy wrote, The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Ms. Kennedy did not take any questions after her remarks, although she gave autographs and posed for photos.

The Kennedys were our royalty, said Mrs. Andres, 56. I m a little older than Caroline, and I feel like we grew up together.

Ms. Kennedy was scheduled to speak last night in northeast Ohio in Elyria and Euclid and today in Parma and Youngstown before returning to New York City.

Contact JC Reindl at: jreindl@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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