NEW YORK — At this time last year, Caroline Kennedy was promoting "A Family Christmas," her collection of essays that featured the memory of her father letting her use the White House switchboard to call Santa.
This year, after warily stepping into the political free-for-all for Sen. Hillary Clinton's job, Kennedy's activities during the holiday season included fending off requests to disclose financial information.
The calls for Kennedy to release her financial information, required of many public officials including her uncle Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, come after a lifetime of carefully cultivated privacy.
By all accounts a very wealthy woman who could be worth as much as $400 million, Kennedy has said she will not release details of her finances unless Democratic Gov. David Paterson picks her for the Senate seat that will open up if Clinton is confirmed as secretary of state.
Before she announced her interest in Clinton's Senate seat, the 51-year-old lawyer, author, wife and mother had been largely invisible to most Americans, who knew her better as the precocious preschooler from John F. Kennedy's administration.
Kennedy, who has spent most of her life in New York since her father's 1963 assassination, has had a varied professional life.
A graduate of Harvard and Columbia University Law School, she does not practice law but has co-written books on the Bill of Rights and the right to privacy. Her other books are on non-controversial topics like Christmas, patriotism and the favorite poems of her mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Most of the books were best-sellers, though it is not known how much she earned from them.
Estimates of Kennedy's wealth vary. The Daily News of New York added up assets in the public record and came up with a net worth that tops $100 million. But in his 2007 book "American Legacy: The Story of John and Caroline Kennedy," author C. David Heymann estimated that Kennedy is worth more than $400 million.
When her mother died in 1994, executors valued the Onassis estate at $43.7 million, a figure that has risen after auctions of various assets. Kennedy and her brother, John F. Kennedy Jr., also inherited their father's share of the large, undisclosed fortune founded by their grandfather, Joseph Kennedy. John F. Kennedy Jr. died in 1999 and left an estimated $50 million estate, with his sister and her children as beneficiaries.
Kennedy and her husband, museum designer Edwin Schlossberg, live on Park Avenue in a prewar co-op building where a neighbor's five-bedroom apartment was recently listed for $13 million. Kennedy also owns a 366-acre estate on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts that she inherited from her mother. The property's worth is estimated at $50 million or more.
Kennedy met Schlossberg, 63, when she worked for the Metropolitan Museum of Art between college and law school. They married in 1986 and have three children, ages 20, 18 and 15.
Kennedy has served on boards including the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, the Commission on Presidential Debates and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, earning no compensation from those commitments.
She worked part-time as chief fundraiser for New York City's public schools from 2002 to 2004 and drew a salary of $1 a year. She wasn't required to file disclosure forms required of some city employees in policy-making positions.
Kennedy's spokesman, Stefan Friedman, said Wednesday that she will comply with applicable financial disclosure laws if she is appointed to the Senate but will not release tax returns.
Senators are required to file financial disclosure statements each year. Her uncle is estimated by the Center for Responsive Politics to be the seventh richest member of Congress, possibly worth $103.5 million or more.
Kennedy's bid for the Senate seat has angered a number of New York politicians, both Democrat and Republican, who say she is trading on her famous name and has handled the selection process with an air of entitlement.
Paterson said Thursday that he will not be rushed in naming an appointment to Clinton's Senate seat.
"Many of those who are calling for a quicker decision would probably help the decision if they would refrain from all the gossip and the atmosphere that's been created," the governor said after he spoke at the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network Christmas dinner.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll released this week, New York voters are split evenly on whether she is qualified for the Senate but expect Paterson to appoint her by a margin of 48 percent to 25 percent. On Thursday, Paterson said there was no front-runner.
Maura Moynihan, the daughter of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who held the Senate seat Kennedy is seeking from 1977 to 2001, said her college classmate has inherited not just her father's name but his political smarts.
"I admire her more than I can say," she said. "I know that when the people of New York get to know her they will also."
Associated Press writer Larry Neumeister and radio correspondent Julie Walker contributed to this report.