After a big political flap, New York gets its new U.S. senator
U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, who's relatively conservative, is named to take the seat vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
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“Everybody’s saying ‘Paterson was indecisive,’ but I don’t think he had a choice,” says New York political analyst Maurice Carroll. “If he wanted to appoint Kennedy he should have done it right away, but if he had any questions he had to wait. You can’t just summarily dismiss a Kennedy. As long as her candidacy was in play, he had to pay attention to it.”Skip to next paragraph
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In choosing Gillibrand, Paterson insisted that his decision was not based on “on gender, geographical location, race or religion” but on who was the best candidate. While she is a relatively unknown in much of the state, she has a reputation as a “Giant Killer” in Democratic political circles. In 2006 she ran against a four-term Republican incumbent in one of the most Republican districts in the state and won. She was re-elected in November garnering more than 62 percent of the vote.
“To win twice in the most Republican district in the state is no small feat,” says New York Senator Charles Schumer. “She has a reputation as a go-to person, if you want to get something done in her district, you go to Kirsten Gillibrand and she will get it done.”
A political family
Politics also runs in Gillibrand’s family. Her grandmother was Polly Noonan, a well known upstate powerbroker. Both of her parents are lawyers involved in local politics. In accepting her appointment, she called it an “incredible honor” but also said she recognized that most New Yorkers don’t even know her name.
“Over these next two years, you will get to know me, and much more importantly, I’ll get to know you,” she says. “As I represented the needs and priorities of the 20th District, I will represent the many diverse views of the entire state as your Senator.”
That was a nod to concerns that have already been aired by some downstate politicians about her pro-gun stance and other conservative views. Two more experienced politicians have already said they plan on challenging her when she has to run for the seat in 2010. One is Rep. Caroline McCarthy (D) of Long Island, an ardent gun control advocate whose husband was killed in 1993 by a gunman on the Long Island Railroad in 1993.
“The fact that there’s already a threatened primary suggests there are wounds here, and there’s a bigger picture,” says John Zogby, president of Zogby International, a polling firm in Utica, New York. “At a time when David Paterson least needs any of this, he’s going to get a big dose of New York Democratic Party politics.”
New York is almost two states in outlook
That could mean fierce infighting. The Democratic Party in New York has a long history of highly contentious primaries that tend not to serve it well. There are Upstate/Downstate resentments dating back to Colonial days as well as a modern day progressive wing which is often at odds with more moderate centrists.
If Patterson was hoping the choice of Gillibrand would bring the party together and make it easier for the Democrats to hold onto Clinton’s seat, he could be disappointed. But analysts say, much of that will depend on how Gillibrand handles herself as the new Junior Senator.
“The bottom line in six months is whether we’re saying that was a great pick, a stroke of genius, or a disaster,” says pollster Miringoff.