News & Politics

Kirsten Gillibrand Fights Back, Tacks Left; Was That Harold Ford’s Plan?


Maybe the last straw was a phone poll that pitted Kirsten Gillibrand against imported Democratic Senate contender Harold Ford Jr. and… Steve Israel. Gillibrand must have thought the Brooklyn Congressman had been safely removed from competition by the White House last May, and considered his re-insertion a sign that things were officially out of hand.

In any event, Gillibrand has apparently tired of ignoring Ford, who has been calling her a “parakeet” for Democratic Special Interests and such like, and is pushing back — not just against Ford’s attacks, but also against the right-ish direction from which they’ve been coming.

“I’m certainly not going to be pushed aside by [Ford] and a few of his banker buddies,” Gillibrand told veteran Albany reporter Jimmy Vielkind today. The banker crack alludes to Ford’s financier-friendly policies, which our own Julia reviewed here last weekend.

Gillibrand also tagged Ford for favoring “the wealthy and the powerful big corporations” over ordinary New Yorkers, and called Ford’s recent neo-liberal, tax-cutting New York Times Op Ed a “regurgitation of failed Bush-McCain policies,” against which she sided in favor of “good-paying jobs for New York families.”

She gave Ford hell for calling her a parakeet, too, saying that was “childish name calling” which she would not allow “from my 6 year old son,” let alone a carpetbagging professional candidate. In this she can probably expect widespread support. But the allusions to bankers and big corporations are a little riskier in the present climate.

Conservatives have been beating up Gillibrand on Ford’s behalf, probably on the theory that if Tea Party fever isn’t strong enough to get New Yorkers to elect a straight-up right-winger, as it failed to do in NY-23 last year, it might get them to back a socially-moderate Republicrat, or rather a more obvious socially-moderate Republicrat than Gillibrand — especially during these difficult days for the national Democratic agenda.

It remains to be seen whether that will work, but the short-term result has been to get Gillibrand to tack more strongly toward the mildly progressive direction she’s been following under Chuck Schumer’s tutelage — whether on principle, or because she couldn’t really get to the right of Ford without becoming Joe Lieberman, we couldn’t say.

This is a refreshing change in recent politics — since Scott Brown won in Massachusetts, people seem to have forgotten everything that happened before 2009. The question is whether this amnesia will persist. Gillibrand is clearly betting that it won’t, and Ford that it will. Also, we think Ford, who is no dummy, probably expected Gillibrand to react the way she has, and is following a hunch that many Democratic voters will consider the traditional Democratic policies on which she is doubling-down to be unacceptably radical, or at least too expensive.

It’s a smart play. If the Democrats in general remain in a jam, Ford is sitting pretty. If their position changes, so may the relatively unknown Ford’s. There are some advantages to being a cipher.



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