A Liberal To Senator Gillibrand: I'm Sorry

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 - 11:00 AM

Justin Krebs talked about his piece on the Brian Lehrer Show Thursday, December 23rd. You can listen to it above.

Senator Charles Schumer is famous for his Sunday press conferences, but it was New York’s junior Senator – Kirsten Gillibrand – who was in the media spotlight this Sunday.  The lead articles on The New York Times website about the historic repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" featured a photograph of the Senator who had championed this legislation in DC, over the airwaves and over her own email list for months.  Right below was an article on the final push for a meaningful action to support the health of the first responders on 9/11…and the article led with quotes from Senator Gillibrand, who has been working to pass this legislation through the Senate.

New York is full of big personalities, but on this issue, Senator Gillibrand proved herself as vocal and visible as our billionaire Mayor, media-savvy senior Senator and even her predecessor, the current Secretary of State.  What matters even more to New Yorkers than her ability to make headlines may be her effectiveness.  It’s not a done deal yet, but the Senator is hoping for a "Christmas Miracle."

So speaking on behalf of at least some New York liberals, let me say: "Sorry – we were wrong."

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is widely-recognized as a hard-working representative willing to take independent-minded votes (earlier this week, she voted against the devastating tax compromise).  It almost makes you forget that 23 months ago, she was widely-recognized as a right-winger and a poor choice by Governor Patterson. 

On January 23rd, 2009, liberal bloggers were not enthusiastic stating that she was a "crummy pick" and to the "right of Evan Bayh".  As Nate Silver wrote at the time, "I just don't know that she'll be an especially good senator for Democrats."   Comments on blogs exploded with a common theme: "we have a Blue Dog gun advocate in Bobby Kennedy's Senate seat. Great. This is change we can grieve over." 

There was immediate talk of the need to stack her primary with a line-up of likely liberal contenders including Congress Members Carolyn Maloney, Carolyn McCarthy and Steve Israel, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. 

Then, we actually got to know her.  Senator Gillibrand assembled a dynamic staff (including the newly elected State Senator, progressive champ and Espada-slayer Gustavo Rivera).  She impressed us with her work ethic and commitment.  She was willing to engage in any forum, including the blogs where many of her detractors lurked, and soon she was a regular contributor to DailyKos.

When MoveOn organized members to protest at Senate offices across the country about healthcare reform, they instead arranged a thank-you rally at the Senator’s Manhattan office because she was out in front of the issue. Green jobs advocates found her an eager partner on an issue connecting job-creation, energy-independence, and environmental sustainability. Finally, with DADT and the Zadroga Bill, she has led in ways that have impressed liberals and should impress all New Yorkers.

Once again, I repeat: "Sorry, we were wrong."

To be fair -- it's not all of us. Some progressives applauded her from the start, many of them from the upstate district where she took out a long-serving Representative in 2006. Brian Keeler – a former candidate and well-known online voice – praised her appointment in The Huffington Post at the time. Activists who had worked on her campaign told the rest of us to give her a chance.  Those who knew her best, knew better than the rest.

And there are still some folks who argue her liberal leadership is the result of facing an election again in 2012 (she is currently finishing out Senator Clinton’s 6-year term). They claim that this is a political necessity to stave off primaries and win in the blue state of New York. If that’s the case, it’s just a reminder that elections have value. Often, faced with tough races, candidates compromise or duck-for-cover or focus.  We should be grateful that electoral pressure is making this candidate more proactive and progressive.

We don’t always know what we will get out of a candidate, or how our politicians will act when we need them most. Our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, though, know what they got out of this Senator.  Our 9/11 responders know they have an advocate who speaks for the people of New York. Hopefully, by Christmas, they’ll also know they have a Senator who can deliver as well.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."


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Comments [13]


I'm not sorry.

I'm still mad that our senator was appointed from on high. Clearing the field so we couldn't have a primary was *bullsh%t.*

It's a pretty sorry state of affairs when her only even potential challenger is from the right. In NY state? If we can't get liberal senators from NY, where are they supposed to come from?

She is just as servile before Wall St. as Chuck is, and that's my #1 issue.

Not sorry at all.

Dec. 23 2010 04:52 PM
George from NYC

I have found her to be a great senator. I really appreciate her response to petitions I send. Her staff is very helpful, when I have had reason to call in -- very good at helping me understand what they are doing on issues, and what questions they still have about those issues.

Dec. 23 2010 01:21 PM
Justin Krebs from NYC

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. The fact that some of us think she's still a conservative and some now think she's a party line liberal means that the jury is still out.

As you all point out, time will tell.

I think it's important, though, that her work that's impressed me isn't just this past week. Her leadership on healthier school lunches, for example, was terrific and won her real allies from the food-politics movement, which is often ignored by politicians of all parties. On issues like that, which receive less attention, she is pushing real progress.

I disagree with Xtina that it was all political theater. I do agree with you, though, that we should reprimand all our elected officials who buy into the rhetoric that tax cuts for folks earning $1 million somehow benefit small businesses.

Dec. 23 2010 11:09 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Typical cool aid drinkers.

I never had a problem with the initial appointment of Gillibrand or her politics, she has worked extremely hard at her job since, and I wish her the best.

HOWEVER, it's not like democrats had a choice to find out if there was a better option. She was an unelected appointee who ran practically unopposed in the primary because Schumer's state party machine believed that the votes of NY democrats do not matter.

Dec. 23 2010 11:04 AM
Xtina from E. Village

Also, she did NOT vote 'against' the tax cuts for millionaires, she was the first one to suggest a 'compromise' increasing the income level to $1million, repeating ad nauseum the Republican mantra that it was for 'small business' and would 'help create jobs'. Whereas we all know this money goes into savings and investments, not stimulating hte economy.

Her vote was poltical theater against cloture, her actual vote did vote for the tax cuts, just like her phony circulating of a letter during the health care debate for the Public Option was poltical theater, designed to score Progressive credibility, while fully knowing it would never happen.

Dec. 23 2010 10:47 AM

Sen. Gillibrand offers a political base mgt. lesson for Pres. Obama.

Keep your base informed & accomplishments earn you political capital.

However, Pres. Obama didn't keep his base or the general public up to date & thus lost the use of the bully pulpit to build support.
That's why he's still on "hold" for lots of us

Dec. 23 2010 10:46 AM
Xtina from E. Village

Still see her as a political opportunist, jumping on every bandwagon that has enough of a voting bloc to ensure her reelection. I'm still waiting for her to pay attention to my needs and enact some legislation that will help me.

Dec. 23 2010 10:41 AM
Howard from the Bronx

To those of us who had information about her before she was appointed, this was no surprise. She had many nuanced and sensible positions about various issues. Public radio station WAMC had her on several times and liberal Alan Chartock was duly impressed. Everybody should do their homework.

Dec. 23 2010 10:40 AM
Robert from NYC

This guy makes some good points. The anti-Palin, I like it.

Dec. 23 2010 10:36 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Oh, great, let's cheer the fact that one of our senators has lost what little shred of independence she had !!!!
Now she is just another Leftie rubber stamp for the trial lawyers, public sector unions and radical activists.
Wow, what great news.....hey let's do a radio segment on it !!!!

Dec. 23 2010 10:36 AM

I am glad to hear and read this. I quite agree: I started with a negative view of the Senator, and am now very impressed. ALSO, I think it's great when a pundit is willing to come out and say 'maybe I was wrong' Kudos to Mr. Krebs

Dec. 23 2010 10:34 AM
Robert from NYC

I join in the apology to the Senator while keeping a critical eye on her as I do with all politicians.

Dec. 23 2010 10:29 AM
Solomon Kleinsmith from Omaha, NE

Can't say I've paid too close of attention to her career, but what I have seen I have mostly liked.

Dec. 21 2010 12:27 PM

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