Kirsten Gillibrand nabs Senate seat


Upstate congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand is packing her NRA-approved guns and heading to D.C. to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat, according to various media outlets.

Other Democrats may not like it, but they can blame Caroline Kennedy, the princess who turned her own coach into a pumpkin.

A Democrat from Hudson (near Albany) who’s on the conservative side of the party’s spectrum, Gillibrand was accurately tabbed the frontrunner yesterday by my colleague Wayne Barrett.

Barrett wondered whether Gillibrand was too Republican for Governor David Paterson to pick her, and got inside Albany’s murky politics to point out why she became the frontrunner:

The irony is that Paterson may be swinging from the nation’s most prominent Democratic family to one with strong Republican ties. Gillibrand’s father, Doug Rutnik, is an Albany insider and lobbyist whose ties to former GOP powerhouses Joe Bruno, George Pataki and Al D’Amato are legendary.

In fact, Gillibrand won her seat when a state police domestic violence report about the GOP incumbent, John Sweeney, was mysteriously leaked, ostensibly with the acquiescence of the Pataki administration, which had its own reasons to oppose Sweeney.

Bruno is under federal investigation now, and some of the subpoenas in the case involved a real estate deal that partnered Rutnik with Bruno and another lobbyist. Rutnik dated, and eventually lived with, a top Pataki and D’Amato aide for many years, until he broke up with her in 2006 to marry a cousin of his, Gwen Lee, who’d worked in high-paying state jobs secured by the same aide. Rutnik and D’Amato have been registered lobbyists for some of the same clients.

Paterson has his own reasons for picking her, the Times reports this morning:

Ms. Gillibrand’s selection was a careful political calculation by the governor, who will run for his second term as governor in 2010, when Ms. Gillibrand will also be on the ballot. The choice reflects Mr. Paterson’s thinking that his selection should be someone who can help him attract key demographics — in Ms. Gillibrand’s case upstate New Yorkers and women.

Barrett noted yesterday:

Gillibrand has described her own voting record as “one of the most conservative in the state.”

Fellow congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy obviously agrees. The Times notes:

If Mr. Paterson was hoping to quiet the tumult over the selection process by picking Ms. Gillibrand, there were indications that he may not get his wish. Ms. Gillibrand, who has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, is controversial among some of the party’s more liberal leaders downstate.

Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a Long Island Democrat and ardent gun control activist, said Thursday that if Ms. Gillibrand got the job, she was prepared to run against her in a primary in 2010. Ms. McCarthy was elected to Congress after her husband was killed in a gunman’s rampage on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misspelled Gillibrand’s name. Next time, I’ll have my coffee before I post.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 23, 2009

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