Soon-to-be Senator Kirsten Gillibrand attended a lunch in midtown on Sunday afternoon with new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Charles Schumer and Governor David Paterson, after which the celebrated hunting advocate was left to face reporters alone without so much as a squirt gun. But she didn’t need backup, deftly handling questions about her gun stand and her new job.
After the one-hour lunch at the hotel restaurant Oscar’s, Paterson briefly accompanied Gillibrand to the podium in the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, where he defended, in a roundabout way, his Friday appointment of the Albany-area Congresswoman to replace Clinton.
“She, frankly, has the disadvantage of not being well known downstate,” said Paterson. “This is something that has happened before, and when given a chance, a lot of great leaders came out of that process, and I have a feeling that another one is soon to fill the shoes of a great leader who has gone on to be Secretary of State.”
Before his hasty exit, Paterson faced a question about the controversial way his office managed the withdrawal of former Senate hopeful Caroline Kennedy. His reply did little to quell confusion.
“Caroline Kennedy called me on Wednesday, whatever date Wednesday was, January 21, to inform me that for personal reasons she had to withdraw,” Paterson said.
He insisted that “she had gotten no signal from me that she had to withdraw. She had gotten no indication that she wouldn’t be selected. And if she read the newspapers, she would have thought she was selected.
“The reality is,” Paterson concluded, “that [Kennedy] is a great New Yorker, she was a great friend of mine, and there was nothing that would have prohibited her from serving. She took her name out of consideration.”
Then he left Gillibrand to deal with the press.
“We talked a lot about the economy,” she said of the lunch, and ticked off their wish-list of projects for which they hoped to get federal aid. “One area that we all agree on,” she said, “is that we really want high-speed rail” — specifically a fast rail line along the I-87 corridor and over to Buffalo. Gillibrand said they also discussed unemployment benefits, and getting more federal reimbursement for state Medicaid payments.
Gillibrand called Clinton a “mentor,” though the tips she said Clinton gave her were procedural: “what worked in her office, how she managed constituent services, how she would get weekly reports. We’re going to use a lot of the protocols that she’s already put in place, that she’s developed over years and years.”
Eventually the topic turned to guns, and Gillibrand, who enjoys a 100 percent approval rating from the National Rifle Association. hinted at the evolution Chuck Schumer had suggested for her on that subject at Friday’s press conference — or at least a repositioning.
“I’m going to protect hunters’ rights,” she said. “I think it’s very important for upstate, it’s important for our national heritage, it’s important for who we are as Americans. I think it’s a core value.”
But, she added, “there is such a different debate about how do you keep our streets free from gun violence, and how do you keep our kids safe, and how do you keep guns out of the hands of criminals.” She reminded reporters of her support for legislation sponsored by Representative Carolyn McCarthy in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre that would have made it more difficult for the mentally ill to purchase guns.
McCarthy, a Democrat from Long Island who lost her husband in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road shooting spree, has vowed to challenge Gillibrand in the primary for the 2010 special election.
“Now,” she said, “as a Senator, my role becomes I have to advocate for all these priorities, and so my advocacy will become broader.”
Gillibrand also suggested that she would embark on her own version of the celebrated Hillary Clinton “listening” tour. “You will see me everywhere in this state,” she said. “You will see me wherever you want to see me.”
Gillibrand will be sworn in as New York’s junior senator on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.