• Ryan O'Connell

New Yorkers for President!

Updated: Nov 29, 2018

November 27, 2018

Are you worried or scared by the current New Yorker in the White House? Three other politicians from the Empire State might offer a better alternative in 2020: Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bloomberg and Andrew Cuomo. Gillibrand is already running hard, but don’t count the other two out.

All three politicians have strong credentials and track records, but each may also face significant obstacles to running a successful campaign. They all hold liberal views on most issues. However, Senator Gillibrand has outflanked the other two on the left. Governor Cuomo and former Mayor Bloomberg are more centrist, pro-business Democrats.

This column is the beginning of a series on possible Democratic candidates for president. We’ll focus on Senator Gillibrand in this article and discuss Cuomo, Bloomberg and others in subsequent piececs. (Cuomo ruled out a run for the presidency during a radio broadcast on Nov. 27.)

Kirsten Gillibrand’s Political Journey

Senator Gillibrand has “evolved” as a politician, moving to the far-left wing of the Democratic Party, and she has also become a very high-profile leader on sexual harassment issues. These steps have won her wide support among New York voters, women’s groups and “progressives”. However, they have also led to criticism that Gillibrand is opportunistic about changing her views and attacking former allies. Does she shift her positions because of deeply held opinions, or because she tacks to the prevailing wind?

Gillibrand was originally a pretty conservative member of Congress from upstate New York, She belonged to the Blue Dog faction in the House and echoed her constituents’ opposition to gun controls and lenience for illegal immigrants.

However, after she was appointed a Senator in 2009, to fill the seat Hillary Clinton had vacated, Gillibrand adopted increasingly liberal views. In 2017 she co-sponsored Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bill for a single-payer health care program, or Medicare for All. That is not yet a mainstream position within the Democratic Party.

Sen Kirsten Gillibrand

Is Gillibrand a True Believer…or an Opportunist?

Gillibrand also supports Sen. Cory Booker’s call for a pilot program in which the Federal government would guarantee jobs for workers. This is a hotly debated idea within the Democratic Party, though Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, two other possible presidential candidates, have also jumped on board. “Labels are hard”, Gillibrand has said, “but I’m comfortable with ‘populist’.

Gillibrand used to be a staunch defender of Wall Street, but she has endorsed a proposal to levy a tax on stock market transactions.

The Senator has taken other controversial positions, too. In July 2018 Gillibrand became the first Senator to call for abolishing the Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agency. This move did not endear her to Nancy Pelosi and other centrist Democratic leaders, who believe that this approach gives Republicans an excuse to attack Democrats as weak on border security. Pelosi prevailed upon most Democratic candidates in the 2018 elections to avoid talking about eliminating ICE.

Here’s one indicator of Gillibrand’s shift to the left. She and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the fiery young Member representing parts of the Bronx and Queens, share the following views:

  • Abolishing ICE

  • Medicare for All

  • Supporting the federal jobs guarantee concept

  • Refusing to accept corporate PAC contributions

Not many senior Democratic leaders have adopted those positions.

Leading, and Riding, the Me Too Movement

Gillibrand raised her national profile dramatically in 2017 on the back of the Me Too Movement, by lambasting other Democrats. In November 2017 the senator said that Bill Clinton should have resigned as President because of the Monica Lewinsky affair. Then, in a one-two punch, in December she called for Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota) to resign because of allegations of sexual harassment against him…. before the Senate Ethics Committee investigated the claims.

At the time, Democratic leaders were laser-focused on defeating Roy Moore’s campaign for Senator in Alabama. Moore faced credible accusations of sexually harassing teenage girls when he was younger, which the Democrats were using, very successfully, to attack him. The timing was terrible for Franken, who was a well-respected, liberal and effective Senator. Other senators and Democratic politicians quickly piled on, backing Gillibrand’s call, and Franken had to step down.

Gillibrand was also front and center in the fight over Brett Kavanagh’s nomination, encouraging those who were protesting his candidacy.

Gillibrand’s stand on sexual misconduct has resonated among many women and Democrats, but her criticism of Bill Clinton and in particular, Al Franken, has also triggered a backlash. Politico reported this week that several former large donors don’t plan to support Gillibrand if she launches an official campaign for President. They feel that she has not been loyal to the Clintons and she threw Franken under the bus to enhance her own reputation.

Critics of Gillibrand observed that the Clintons had given her a great deal of support for almost 20 years. She served as a lawyer for the Housing and Urban Department, which Andrew Cuomo was running, during the Clinton Administration. Gillibrand worked on Hillary Clinton’s senatorial campaign in 2000. Hillary was a mentor to Gillibrand, and the Clinton network helped her to garner contributions for her House and Senate campaigns. Critics also noted that Gillibrand and Franken had been on very good terms; they had a weekly squash match.

Still, Gillibrand remains wildly popular in New York, where she just won re-election with almost 70% of the vote. She has developed a formidable fund-raising machine. Gillibrand is short (5’ 3”), but she has a commanding presence and she is very quick on her feet. Like Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke, other possible presidential candidates, Gillibrand (age 51) has the advantages of charisma and good looks. That’s not a sexist comment; attractive candidates usually fare better in elections.

Gillibrand’s personal life should also be good material for a national campaign. Gillibrand, a Catholic, married Jonathan Gillibrand, a British venture capitalist, in 2001. They have two sons, aged 10 and 13 years old. A graduate of Dartmouth and UCLA Law School, Gillibrand worked for two prestigious law firms, Davis Polk and Boies Schiller & Flexner, but she has spent most of her career in politics. She faced some criticism in the past because of her work defending Philip Morris, but that issue seems to have faded. The Wall Street Democrat

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