Sen. Gillibrand has her work cut out for her

People are giving new U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a chance although her problems are mounting up. Public opinion polling seems to show that while Gillibrand is not being criticized, Paterson has been vilified for the way in which he and his staff went about making the appointment after Caroline Kennedy made it known she would not accept it. Now Paterson has made matters even worse by admitting that it was he who set the anti-Kennedy vitriol in motion. He says it got out of hand and that he never meant for his staff to go around calling her names and questioning her motives.

There are different theories as to why Paterson appointed Gillibrand. One suggests that tired of playing second fiddle to Hillary Clinton, the other U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, wanted someone who would follow his lead and not overshadow him. Another is that Paterson, perhaps facing a primary from Andrew Cuomo, wanted to broaden his upstate base and at the same time get a “two-for” by appointing an upstater to show the folks north of Yonkers that he really cared about them. In any case, what is done is done and Paterson has been roundly beaten up for the appointment. This hasn’t helped Gillibrand.

It is crucial to remember that the whole gang will have to run in 2010. That includes Schumer, Paterson, Gillibrand, Andrew Cuomo for attorney general, Tom DiNapoli for Comptroller, and the entire Legislature, including the newly “flipped” Democratic Senate. The problem for the Democrats is that if Paterson proves to be weak and is challenged by a strong Republican like Rudy Giuliani, the newly Democratic Senate might flip back to the Republicans. At least one prominent reporter, Ken Lovett of the New York Daily News, says that this might lead the Democrats to visit Paterson and urge him to step aside in favor of someone like Cuomo the Younger, who has high popularity ratings.

The big question now is whether Gillibrand will face a Democratic primary. One name mentioned as a potential candidate is Carolyn McCarthy, the Long Island anti-gun personality whose husband was murdered on the Long Island Railroad. Right now she’s saying that she doesn’t want to run but suggests that she would if no one else comes forward. Carolyn Maloney, a popular East Side congresswoman, is known to have wanted the job and has far better name recognition than Gillibrand in New York City, where the Democratic primary voters are. Of course, in order to run, both Maloney and McCarthy would have to give up their seats in the House of Representatives. Maloney is far more likely to mount the challenge.

Of course, Chuck Schumer is a toughie who will be taking names of potential flies in the ointment who might want to primary Gillibrand. He didn’t get where he is by being Mr. Nice Guy. The pressure on the possible challengers has to be intense. Remember that Schumer has a great deal to say about who gets Senate Democratic money to run. Speaking of biggies, we hear that Speaker Nancy Pelosi was not too happy that he picked the successful Gillibrand out of her normally Republican district. In fact, there is now a good possibility that the Democrats will lose the seat.

Another potential Democratic candidate is Congressman Maurice Hinchey who is extraordinarily popular in his district which extends from the Hudson Valley to Ithaca. He is one of the most liberal members of Congress but is also known to favor the Second Amendment right to bear arms. He would certainly give Gillibrand a real run for her money, should he choose to run. He, too, would have to give up his now safe seat in order to run and he has considerable seniority in the Congress. Hinchey has a devoted following in New York and is beloved for his early opposition to the Iraqi war when so many others were in hiding. He is also close enough to the Democratic primary voters in New York to win a lot of votes. Gillibrand, formerly a “Blue Dog” conservative Democrat, has been seen as a flip flopper on immigration, gay rights, guns and a host of other issues. To put it mildly, she has her work cut out for her if she is to survive.

Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 2/27/09

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