A little over month ago I wrote on my Left of the Hudson blog about frustrations many New York progressives felt over Governor David Paterson’s pick to replace Hillary Clinton as our junior Senator.
However, a string of events led me to attend the very fundraiser that I once objected to.
And yesterday, I met Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
And hell froze over.
I diary about this fundraiser masquerading as a town-hall meeting would reach perhaps 100-200 people. I was not prepared for the 800-plus email responses that I got from places as diverse as Wyoming County, Schenectady, Rochester, and Watertown. I guess I hit a nerve.
At the core of my grievance was the impression that Gillibrand’s fundraiser was marketed as a Q&A with her consituents. As I’m a fervent believer in the public’s free and unfettered access to politicians (especially to a newly appointed Senator and during a time when many are struggling financially) I did not find this acceptable. I am told now that the event was always meant to be advertised as a fundraiser and a still wet-behind-the-ears local politician was credited with incorrectly ballyhooing it in an email to his constituents.
Gillibrand eventually righted this misperception by holding several public events on this same day, including greeting people in the heat at the Nyack Street Fair. Along with the unveiling of the “Sunshine Report” on her Senate Web site, I think she took two big progressive steps.
Rosina Rubin, the host of the event–who eventually held it at her beautiful home–gets a lot of credit for mending fences. She invited me to be her guest at the fundraiser. After debating with myself over whether I would be viewed as a hypocrite, I sheepishly accepted. I prevailed upon myself to have an open mind when I attended. Gillibrand met a nice-sized group, took several questions from a moderator, and then took questions from the audience. The first thing you’ll notice about Sen. Gillibrand is that she talks real fast even while thinking on her feet. After you get used to her oratorical overdrive, you start to appreciate the amount of information she can exchange in a short period of time.
While she talks fast, Gillibrand isn’t prone to sales pitches when discussing politics; she’s measured, analytical, and concise. There’s also no straw-man arguments, no dogma, nor stroking the audience; she’s a policy wonk if there ever was one.
I listened to her speak to several concerned members of the audience on gun control and she allayed many concerns and was especially adamant about closing the “gun-show loophole.” In fact, Gillibrand systematically addressed every one of my concerns, and she dismissed rumors about herself circulated by others, such as the one about sleeping with two guns under her bed.
Beyond that, Gillibrand impressed me with her dedication to repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax and the unfunded No Child Left Behind. Gillibrand also discussed, in length, criticism of the Food Safety Modernization Act. She assured us that she would not be interested in voting for the bill if it contained requirements that would hurt small and organic farms. Sen. Gillibrand says that she hasn’t found anything in the bill, so far, that point in that direction. And, I must say, she seems to be really on top of agricultural issues.
I had my own question about some contradictory evidence concerning the feasibility of cellulosic ethanol, but decided that it was too technical and esoteric to discuss in front of a group. I informed Senator Gillibrand, who met me before I left, that I’d send her my question by email. She seems truly interested in discussing the topic and I’m pretty sure that she’ll respond.
All in all, I am much less worried about Sen. Gillibrand than I was a month ago. She certainly does not deserve the derisive label “Tracy Flick” that some of her more nasty critics have tagged her with. (I detested that name calling when I first read it on Politico.) We’ve got a little more than a year to the State Democratic Primary and that’s plenty of time for Democrats to get to know Sen. Gillibrand. I’m not jumping into her corner just yet, nor am I saying we should forgo a primary, but I do hope to continue to be impressed.
Cliff Weathers is a South Nyack blogger active in local politics. Read his posts at Left Of The The Hudson.