Kirsten Gillibrand Choice Exposes How Weak And Unqualified David Paterson Is To Be Governor... At Least Of A Big State
In 2006 Blue America helped Kirsten Gillibrand defeat bumbling reactionary incumbent John Sweeney and she beat him-- in a Republican-leaning district (PVI-R+3)-- 117,799 (53%) to 104,157 (47%). She presented herself to us as a grassroots progressive reformer but immediately upon taking her seat she joined the pro-business/anti-working family Blue Dogs and has amassed a sickeningly reactionary record since her election. Just looking at substantive issues that divided members of Congress along partisan lines, Gillibrand has been one of the members most likely to abandon the Democrats and vote with the GOP. Only 12 House Democrats have been worse than Gillibrand: Joe Donnelly (IN), Travis Childers (MS), Brad Ellsworth (IN), Heath Shuler (NC), Jason Altmire (PA), Chris Carney (PA), Dan Boren (OK), Harry Mitchell (AZ), Zack Space (OH), Gene Taylor (MS), Gabrielle Giffords (AZ), Collin Peterson (MN). Her record is actually worse than arch-reactionaries like Jim Marshall (GA), Henry Cuellar (TX), Mike McIntyre (NC), John Barrow (GA), Allen Boyd (FL) and Jim Matheson (UT), the Democrats who have done the most to help the Republican leadership build an effective conservative ruling coalition.
Pelosi has taken a dim view of Gillibrand's propensity to cross the aisle on key issues, even voting to keep the war in Iraq going and to allow Bush to put through his FISA policies, and for a moment it looked like Pelosi's antipathy would prevent Gillibrand from being able to push her bid for the New York Senate seat. Many of her colleagues have a low opinion of her as well. In the end it didn't mean anything and Gov. Paterson chose her.
Talking with Gillibrand on the phone, I found her intelligent and credible as a reformer. Her voting record as a member of the House, though, makes it clear that she is far more conservative than any of the other candidates Governor Paterson was said to be considering. She's actually a co-sponsor of Heath Shuler's anti-immigrant SAVE Act, something that should have eliminated her as a contender. Paterson's craven choice was about ticket balancing and her ability to take in massive contributions (bribes) from Big Business interests and he seems to have never seriously considered who would do the best job for New Yorkers. If that had been a consideration, we would have been hearing a lot more shatter about Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the most brilliant member of the New York delegation-- but "too Jewish, too liberal, too New York City."
I'm guessing that this pick will guarantee Paterson a primary opponent (Andrew Cuomo), as well as one against Gillibrand (probably gun control advocate Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was murdered on the Long Island Railroad by a gun nut. "I'm extremely upset about this. I don't believe," said Rep. McCarthy, "New York should have a senator that has a 100 percent voting record with the NRA.") It is likely that NY-20, Gillibrand's House district, will be eliminated after the 2010 census but Republican Sandy Treadwell, who lost to Gillibrand last year (after spending over $7,000,000, $6,000,000 of it from his own pocket) wants to run again. So do Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco and state senators Sens. Betty Little and Roy McDonald and former Assemblyman John Faso. The Democrats don't have much of a bench in the area although early faves look like Coxsackie Town Supervisor Alex Betke, Saratoga County Democratic chairman Larry Bulman, and Gillibrand's district director, Mike Russo, who ran for the state Senate and lost. Gillibrand is likely to moderate her positions now that she represents a progressive state rather than a backward district-- and she was always more progressive in her heart than in her voting habits-- and I expect that she'll probably tend to be a reliable Democratic vote and may even surprise us by rising to the occasion and becoming a real leader. Let's hope she sheds the Shuler-Tancredo style xenophobia real fast.
I would say that between Blagojevich and Paterson it is clear that the anti-democratic rules of governors picking senators have long outlived their usefulness and should be changed. Voters should pick senators, not governors with their own agendas.
UPDATE: DOES PATERSON KNOW WHO DOUG RUTNIK IS?
When I first interviewed candidate Gillibrand in 2006, she talked a great deal about her mother, Polly Noonan, an Albany Democratic Party big wig and founder of the Albany Democratic Women's Club. She never mentioned her father. I didn't think much of it at the time but after reading Wayne Barrett's story in the Village Voice I understand what Gillibrand wasn't eager to discuss.
The irony is that Paterson may be swinging from the nation's most prominent Democratic family to one with strong Republican ties. Gillibrand's father, Doug Rutnik, is an Albany insider and lobbyist whose ties to former GOP powerhouses Joe Bruno, George Pataki and Al D'Amato are legendary. In fact, Gillibrand won her seat when a state police domestic violence report about the GOP incumbent, John Sweeney, was mysteriously leaked, ostensibly with the acquiescence of the Pataki administration, which had its own reasons to oppose Sweeney. Bruno is under federal investigation now, and some of the subpoenas in the case involved a real estate deal that partnered Rutnik with Bruno and another lobbyist. Rutnik dated, and eventually lived with, a top Pataki and D'Amato aide for many years, until he broke up with her in 2006 to marry a cousin of his, Gwen Lee, who'd worked in high-paying state jobs secured by the same aide. Rutnik and D'Amato have been registered lobbyists for some of the same clients.
On the other hand, Gillibrand is very smart and very reform-minded and, unlike Caroline Kennedy, an elected official in her own right. To many of the Insiders all that seems to matter is who your parents are. Take Larry O'Donnell for example: "Paterson has no comprehension of upstate New York, absolutely none, and has chosen someone better at representing cows than people. What you have is the daughter of a lobbyist, instead of the daughter of a former President or the son of a former governor. This is the hack world producing the hack result that the hacks are happy with.” Sounds like there is at least one very high profile hack who isn't happy at all. Voters should choose senators, by universal suffrage, not governors or Insiders.