Kirsten Gillibrand: A Visit With Our Junior Senator
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
I really didn’t know her.
She was that upstate Congresswoman without much seniority who overnight became our U.S. Senator. She was appointed by an accidental Governor who clearly had bungled the process. Her Democratic district and her apparent centrist beliefs clearly were conservative for us downstate liberals.
She had a political mentor who appeared to scare any opposition from challenging her in the Democratic Primary. People who I know, like Long Island Congressman Steve Israel and Manhattan-Queens Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, flirted with a run and felt the pressure. Harold Ford and others explored a challenge but at the end of the day, joined the long list of almost-rans.
Most of us who observe the political game believe elected officials must win their seats, that new-comers and freshmen deserve spirited challenges and that easy rides just shouldn’t happen.
Kirsten Gilibrand and Mike Schenkler
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who has served a year and a half as the junior senator from New York, has a free ride to the Democratic line and totally outguns her little known Republican rival. Basically, when the Senator’s staff called for a sit down, I knew that Gillibrand was going to be our Senator for a longtime to come.
I already knew that her positions on several issues had moved to the left – to my liking — shortly after leaving a smaller conservative district to represent the entire state. Not in keeping with my typical approach to grill a candidate, I decided to get to know the Senator and try to judge the person and not the political animal.
Well this person is a political animal.
The diminutive, attractive, young Gillibrand is bright, glib, knowledgeable and full of energy. She referred to politics as “a blood sport.”
Her maternal grandmother, Dorothea “Polly” Noonan (1915–2003), was a women’s rights activist who was a leader of the Albany Democratic machine and the closest confidant of longtime Albany mayor Erastus Corning. “As a 10-year-old girl,” Gillibrand later said, “I would listen to my grandmother discuss issues and she made a lasting impression on me.”
For a newcomer, her knowledge of the economy was impressive as she responded non-stop to a series of questions and took control of the conversation with a command one expects from New York’s Senior Senator. She has travelled the state and is aware of, and committed to, addressing the different economic demands of each region.
What captured our imagination was the reform agenda of the nation’s newest Senator.
Senator Gillibrand has led by example, becoming the first Member of Congress to post all of her federal funding requests, official daily schedule and personal financial disclosure on her own website.
|Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visits the Trib last week. (Clockwise from left): editor Brian Rafferty, Associate Publisher Michael Nussbaum, Senator Gillibrand, Press Secretary Glen Caplin, Publisher Mike Schenkler, Gillibrand’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Brian Simon.
Now, she has joined Republican Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and John McCain (R-AZ) to author bipartisan legislation that creates an easily searchable database which makes the federal earmark process fully transparent and easy for citizens to access.
To help keep elections fair and honest, Gillibrand is pushing legislation to reverse the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that allows special interests—including even foreign-controlled corporations—to spend limitless amounts of money to influence elections.
From 1991 to 2007, Congress voted to raise its own pay 11 times, for a total increase of $63,600 in their annual salary. Gillibrand is a cosponsor of legislation to permanently end the automatic pay raise for Members of Congress.
Together with 67 of her colleagues, Senator Gillibrand has written to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), calling on the leaders to once and for all end the practice of Senators putting anonymous holds on legislation.
Finally, Gillibrand expressed her desire to greatly curtail the effectiveness of the filibuster by allowing a decreasing percent of members to end debate on successive votes.
In a May 2008 New York Times article, Gillibrand was mentioned as a “young Democratic dragon slayer who won in [a] Republican district” in the context of possibly becoming the first woman to be elected President.
While we were impressed with our compelling chat, we’re not ready to sign onto that. However, we look forward to watching one of the nation’s youngest Senators blossom and come into her own over the next six years.
Come back and visit soon, Senator.MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
Budget Passed 125 Days Late; Oil Spill Fix Took 105 Days
By HENRY STERN
The ice broke at about 8:30 p.m. on the night of Aug. 3, the 125th day that the New York State budget was overdue. The state’s fiscal year begins on April 1, and FY 2010-2011 was more than one-third over when the State Senate passed a revenue bill that purportedly closed the budget gap.
The resolution of the four-month crisis was reported on the front page of the next day’s Times in an article by Danny Hakim.
The most newsworthy feature of the revenue bill was the reimposition of a 4 percent state sales tax on clothing and shoes selling for less than $110. The city and state had previously taxed those transactions, but the city repealed its tax in September 2005 and the state followed suit, effective April 2006. City elections are held in odd-numbered years and state elections in even-numbered years. Connect the dots.
Of course, the $330 million predicted to be collected by the low-end sales tax will not close the state’s $9.8 billion budget gap. It was passed to show legislative concern over the state’s fiscal plight, a condition directly attributable to consistent overspending proposed by the governor and proudly approved by successive legislatures.
The fiscal crisis will come home to roost when the banks stop lending to an increasingly insolvent state government, as they did in New York City in 1974. The state can continue, however, to loot the pension funds for money that they can have no reasonable expectation of being able to repay. Perhaps the state hopes the federal government will bail it out, the way they protected the banks and auto manufacturers in 2008 and 2009.
Perhaps they hope the Feds will do what they did to/for General Motors: wipe out the stockholders, scalp the bondholders and turn control of the company over to the unions. That may turn out to be a good strategy if the company, much smaller now, prospers again. We would not, however, be inclined to go in on the IPO, however it may be priced.
Two substantive bills that were before the legislature failed to pass. They included allowing the sale of wine in supermarkets, and imposing a penny an ounce tax on sugar in soft drinks. Both bills were defeated because the lobbyists in opposition were stronger than those in favor. In our legal system, a party in a lawsuit may prevail because he has a better lawyer than his adversary. That rule applies, a fortiori, when dealing with legislative matters. It is a shame when matters are not decided on the merits, but on the basis of political influence, which may be purchased from people who are practicing their professions in a free society.
New York State lived up to its reputation, first reported six years ago by the Brennan Center for Justice, as having “the most dysfunctional legislature in the United States.” There was no mid-session seizure of power by the opposing party, as there was in the Senate in 2009, which created a situation evocative of the Avignon papacy, which Petrarch compared to the Babylonian captivity. The fact that the Democratic Senate majority was razor-thin, 32 being the Constitutional requirement for the adoption of legislation or a budget, meant that the vote of every Democrat was needed on every occasion, and any one disaffected on any issue could prevent the adoption of any other proposal.
To sum up: the State fisc is going to hell in a handbasket, Albany did nothing to impede its descent, relief will have to come from the application of external forces, and much of what happens is due to the fact that too many people in power have limited abilities but unlimited appetites.
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