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Kirsten Gillibrand

Who Is Kirsten Gillibrand?

January 23, 2009 11:31 AM
by Josh Katz
Kirsten Gillibrand, said to be the Senate replacement for Hillary Clinton, has emerged as a savvy Democratic politician who has held her own in Republican country.

Gillibrand to Become Senator

Media outlets are widely reporting that N.Y. Gov. David Paterson will announce today at noon that he has selected Democratic Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, who has become U.S. secretary of state. The reports of the selection of a relative unknown has the media and public hungry for information about the appointee, who will fill the seat until a special election is held in 2010. Here is some background on Kirsten Gillibrand.

Gillibrand Overcomes Odds in Congressional Elections

U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-Greenport, emerged from obscurity three years ago. The 42-year old corporate lawyer defeated four-term incumbent Republican Rep. John Sweeney, according to the Albany Times Union. The election also became known for its mud-slinging, as news emerged possibly linking Sweeney to domestic abuse. Sweeney’s campaign accused the Gillibrand team of spreading the rumors, and his wife said that Gillibrand was trying to “slander my marriage, husband and family.” Sweeney would confess that authorities were called to his house, however. Sweeney was also tainted by the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Republican rivals quickly swarmed after Gillibrand’s victory in the heavily GOP district. Republican Alexander “Sandy” Treadwell began campaigning in her first year on the job and a number of other Republicans considered entering the race. “Indeed, Republican officials in Washington are so confident of Ms. Gillibrand’s vulnerabilities that they say they intend to field test an array of themes in the district that they believe can be applied to other freshman Democrats around the country,” The New York Times wrote in May 2007.

She went on to beat Treadwell with more than 62 percent of the vote, even though Treadwell spent more than $6 million on the congressional race.

But Gillibrand is no fundraising slouch. Her expertise is well-known in Democratic circles, as she pulled in more than $4.5 million in the last election.

“If she does for the state what she’s done for congressional district, the state will be in good shape,” Warren County Chairman Bill Montfort said, according to the Times Union.

Saratoga Chairman Larry Bulman expressed a similar sentiment: “She’s a star. She will build her brand across the state just as quickly as she did in the district.”

But a drawback to choosing Gillibrand appears to be the potential loss of her congressional seat to Republicans. Though according to the Times Union, New York is expected to lose one seat after the 2010 census, and the Democratically-controlled state Senate and Assembly could gerrymander the district to keep it in Democratic hands.

Liberals downstate might also be unhappy with some of Gillibrand’s beliefs. For example, the National Rifle Association has endorsed her, according to The New York Times. Representative Carolyn McCarthy of Long Island, who has been a prominent advocate of gun control, said on Thursday that she would consider a run against the congresswoman in 2010 if Gillibrand got the job.

Gillibrand was a strong advocate of Hillary Clinton, having volunteered on her first Senate campaign in 2000. Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson also aided Gillibrand in her 2006 bid for office and Bill Clinton made an appearance with her on the campaign trail when she was opposing Sweeney, according to Elizabeth Benjamin of the Daily News.

Benjamin notes that Gillibrand’s Clinton support “both before and during the Democratic presidential primary won’t necessarily endear her to the Obama administration.”

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Gillibrand’s Life

She is married to Jonathan Gillibrand, a financial consultant, and the couple has two sons: 5-year-old Theodore and 6-month-old Henry, according to the Times Union. The congresswoman comes from a politically active family, attended an all-girls prep school in Troy, N.Y., graduated from Dartmouth College and went to UCLA law school. She then clerked for a judge and worked as a special counsel under Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo. Prior to her congressional run, she worked for a law firm in New York City.

In an interview with Saratoga.com, Gillibrand cited her grandmother and mother as inspiration. She admired her grandmother’s service in the community and her mother’s work helping everyday people with their legal needs. In the interview she also revealed a fact that people may not know about her: “My mother is a great hunter—she usually shoots our Thanksgiving turkey.”

Reference: More information on Gillibrand and her record


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