The congresswoman whose last name begins with a soft "g" may have to become the senator who reconsiders her hard-lined history against gun control control advocates. That seems to be the one thing we've learned in the less than 48 hours since it was revealed that Representative Kirsten Gillibrand would be named to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate following the Caroline Kennedy fiasco.
Today Gillibrand began her "Get to Know You" tour of the NYC area, symmetrically mimicking a similar listening tour of upstate that Hillary embarked on when she began vying to represent the state alongside Charles Schumer. Gillibrand stopped by the Reverend Al Sharpton's weekly rally, where she answered questions about her stance on firearms and stressed her willingness to listen to pleas from anti-violence groups. While Sharpton admitted the two barely knew each other, he said, "I trust the governor, the governor trusts her. Let's get it on."
Gillibrand was stressing today that her top priority in Washington is our struggling economy. She made a name for herself this fall for bucking party lines and voting against both versions of the $700 billion financial bailout, raising the ire of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. For a representative who has just finished her first term, she's already made a gained notoriety as a rogue Democrat, also going toe-to-toe with former Governor Eliot Spitzer. She favors the English language-only movement, was the first representative to object to New York's plan to give undocumented immigrants driver's licenses, and she opposes creating a path to citizenship for them. Danny Cantor, executive director of the influential Working Families Party, told the Times, “People change, and we’re going to be optimistic and hope she does too.”
But she has also clearly been wise in the political alliance she has made as well. She has close ties with local congressional bigwig Representative Nita Lowey (who may have still been sitting in the senate seat at this point had Hillary not set her sites on New York in 2000). Like many New York pols, Gillibrand backed Hillary in the presidential primaries and saw both of the Clintons (and President Obama as well) campaign for her this past year.
Many heads turned when the man she once interned for, one-time Senator Alfonse D'Amato found his way front-and-center at the press conference announcing her selection yesterday. When someone asked D'Amato about finding an even more prominent place in yesterday's photographs than Schumer, the man who defeated him ten years ago, he responded, “No one ever blocks Chuck out for long.”
And it may be Schumer that played the biggest role in Gillibrand's rise. While her "centrist views" seem to have been a sore point in initial criticism of her, it was likely that nontraditional mold that led Schumer to push for Gillibrand as one of a handful of Democrats that he thought could infiltrate traditionally Republican districts in 2006. (There is already talk that State Senate Minority Leader James Tedisco has his eyes on her vacated seat.)
Calls that Gillibrand's stances as appealing to her upstate constituency but out of touch with those around the Big Apple seem ironic since she was attacked in her initial congressional campaign as being “more familiar with the price of dog-walkers in Manhattan than the price of a six-pack at Stewart’s.”
Some think that such a dichotomy could prove to be a winning combination for Gillibrand. CEO of Burt's Bees and a former college classmate of hers, John Repogie, told the Times, “I could see her in the cabinet, indeed if not throwing her hat into the ring in eight years.