When then President-elect Barack Obama announced Sen. Hillary Clinton as his choice to head the State Department, Gov. David Paterson was left the heady task of choosing her replacement. Though Paterson as had since November, he waited until Friday to declare that the new Batwoman to Sen. Charles Schumer's Batman will be Democratic Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand.
The nomination wasn't that much of a surprise considering that Paterson indicated he preferred to appoint a woman and the other major female candidate, Caroline Kennedy, withdrew her name from consideration the day before the announcement.
From Paterson's point of view, the pick makes sense politically. Gillibrand puts the "fun" in fundraiser, raising $4.6 million for her first re-election campaign, and her conservative credentials that play well in upstate New York where the governor has trouble, will strengthen the Democratic ticket in 2010.
Yet while Gillibrand will fill out a pantsuit just as well as Clinton, I have a feeling she doesn't have the makeup of a New York senator. My hesitation stems from her record as a Blue Dog, which is fine in the slightly conservative 20th constituency, but that ideology is not a good fit for a state that's predominantly to the left. The most glaring example of this conflict is Gillibrand's 100 percent rating from the National Rifle Association, which has led Democratic Congresswoman and gun control activist Carolyn McCarthy to state that she'll be challenging Gillibrand in the Democratic primary in two years.
It's hard to put a label on Gillibrand, as she is supported by Emily's List and is pro-choice, while also endorsing the conservative English Language Only Movement and voted against the $700 billion TARP bailout. But there is indication that some of her positions may evolve, as Gillibrand has announced her intention to work with McCarthy on background checks and has scheduled a tour of Harlem with Rev. Al Sharpton so that she can become more enlightened about gun control. This comes in the aftermath of her clearing up any ambiguity concerning her stance on gay rights as she affirmed her support for gay marriage.
While such steps are all well and good, it seems unlikely that Gillibrand's ideology will radically change as her constituency expands. The 20th isn't as conservative as her voting record indicates, so it doesn't make sense that she will now use the political cover of a left leaning state to let out her inner-liberal lioness.
Beyond concerns about Gillibrand's political views exist reservations about the way she plays politics with a tendency to bump elbows and rub people the wrong way. This is in sharp contrast to Clinton, who entered the Senate with a high profile but accepted her low spot on the totem pole. If Gillibrand isn't able to embrace the same attitude, she'll be an ineffective legislator in a body that puts emphasis on deference and order.
There will be a tough primary challenge in 2010 and by that time Gillibrand needs to get in touch with her downstate constituency. For now, though, I'm willing to give our new senator the benefit of the doubt and hope that she'll use the next two years to solidify a voting record in line with N.Y.'s values.