2009-01-28 / Political Page

Gov's Senate Pick Sparks Possible Election Challenges

Governor David Paterson's selection last week of Congressmember Kirsten Gillibrand (pronounced jilli-brand) to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as the junior U.S. Senator from New York state ended his two-month search for a replacement.

But disagreement with the governor over his selection seems certain to set off a wave of opposition against Gillibrand when she must stand for election next year.

There's also a good chance Paterson will draw a challenge next year when he stands for reelection. A prime contender to oppose him in the Democratic primary in 2010 is New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who was among the possible Clinton replacements the governor rejected.

Paterson's choice of Gillibrand angered many Democrats besides those who were seeking the Senate appointment. The dissenters will target Paterson for defeat in the primary, not only for picking Gillibrand, an inexperienced upstate lawmaker who opposes gun controls, but also because of the manner in which he denigrated Caroline Kennedy, and her family and supporters when she sought the Senate seat and certain statements that he and his staff made when Kennedy quit the effort to be appointed.

The Kennedy clan, which is a powerful political force unto itself, was reportedly angered by the treatment Kennedy received in the period before she dropped out of contention and immediately after. Sources in the Kennedy camp have vowed to pay back Paterson for insulting remarks directed at her by his staff.

Meanwhile, at least one challenger to Gillibrand in next year's primary has emerged— Congressmember Carolyn McCarthy of Long Island, a strong gun control advocate. Even as Gillibrand emerged as the likely selection for the Senate, McCarthy declared she would boycott Paterson's announcement in Albany and would not show any support for Gillibrand. "The majority of New Yorkers are trying to reduce gun violence," she stated, taking issue with Gillibrand's oft-stated opposition to gun controls.

Also displeased with Gillibrand's anti-gun control stance was Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In a prepared statement which opened with some favorable comments, the mayor also stated: "However, I have a strong disagreement with one area of her record: illegal guns. She has actively opposed the efforts of New York City and cities around the state and nation to enact commonsense measures that keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals."

Besides McCarthy there are other possible opponents for Gillibrand in the 2010 primary, including Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D- Queens/Manhattan) who has served in Congress for more than a decade and boasts an enviable record of legislative achievement on women's, consumer, and financial issues.

The anti-Paterson sentiment that surfaced after the selection of Gillibrand was not only because of the ill treatment of Kennedy, but also because he chose a conservative leaning congressmember whose resume included being the only Democrat in the state delegation to have voted against the Wall Street bailout last October.

But Paterson was also criticized by liberal Democrats and others for not having handled the selection process more smoothly, allowing news leaks and making statements that turned the entire matter into a "circus" or a "farce". Another indication of the disappointment with Paterson's selection was the number of congressmembers from the state who were absent from the Albany announcement of her appointment by the governor.

Another harsh statement on the Gillibrand selection came from Assemblymember Peter Rivera (D- The Bronx), who said her stand on immigration "borders on xenophobia" and would create obstacles to immigration reforms.

Assemblymember Rory Lancman (D- Flushing) also thought little of the governor's choice of Gillibrand. He observed that the way Paterson handled the process "feeds into the perception of hi[s] lacking discipline".

And, Lancman added, "A year after he came into office, the governor hasn't made himself into the leader of our party."

Among those who supported Gillibrand's appointment in prepared statements were Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, Congressmembers Maloney and Joseph Crowley, Assemblymember Grace Meng and Cuomo.

Cuomo recalled that Gillibrand served under him for a time when he was Secretary of HUD in the Clinton Administration. Maloney said she looked forward to working with Gillibrand on the crucial issues facing the nation and Crowley stated that, with the nation facing hard times, "The people of New York state will depend on [Gillibrand's] first-rate work ethic, enthusiasm and commitment to help see them through this crisis."

Meng voiced similar praise, but also extended an invitation to the new Senator to visit Flushing. "I am sure," Meng said, "All of our neighbors join with me in wishing Kirsten the best of luck."

On the other side of the aisle, state Republican Party chairman Joseph N. Mondello knocked Paterson's "secretive, closed door process" of selecting Gillibrand, who he criticized as "an unqualified, political novice". Mondello also announced that the Republicans had started the process to select a candidate to run for the seat vacated by Gillibrand in the northern part of the state.

Also knocking Gillibrand as "inexperienced" was Lynn Krogh, president of the New York Young Republican Club. Krogh said she didn't think Gillibrand was capable of doing something about unemployment upstate or the Wall Street crisis downstate.

Gillibrand, 42, defeated veteran Republican John Sweeney to win her mostly rural upstate district in her first run for political office in 2006. She won re-election easily last year. An attorney, she excels in securities law, which should benefit her in today's financial crisis.

Besides having worked at HUD when Cuomo headed the housing agency, Gillibrand also served as a summer intern in then U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato's Albany office. Her parents, (now divorced), are both attorneys and were active and influential in Albany politics. Her dad, Douglas P. Rutnik, is a prominent Albany lobbyist.

BLOOMBERG STAFFER IS OBAMA'S HUD PICK: Following the U.S. Senate's confirmation of former Bloomberg mayoral administration cabinet member Shaun Donovan as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration last week, Donovan's former boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated: "At this moment, when so many Americans have lost their homes, and so many more are afraid that they soon will, the country is fortunate to have someone of Shaun's intelligence, passion and determination to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. New Yorkers have been the beneficiaries of Shaun's work for the past five years and will be for many to come. As Commissioner of our Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Shaun helped grow and implement our ambitious 165,000-unit New Housing Marketplace plan- the largest in the nation, designed to provide housing affordable to 500,000 working New Yorkers. Largely due to Shaun's stewardship, we've shown that through innovative thinking and responsible planning government can be a stabilizing force during difficult times- of more than 17,000 affordable home mortgages entered into through our housing plan, we've had just five foreclosures.

"The nation faces serious housing challenges today, and I can't think of anyone better suited to help President Obama and his administration meet them than Shaun."

CROWLEY HAILS OBAMA'S $ FOR FAMILY PLANNING: Last week, after President Barack Obama repealed the Bush Administration's regulation withholding family planning funds from organizations around the world, Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D- Queens/The Bronx) applauded the new president's action, saying: "Today's repeal of the Global Gag Rule is a victory for the health and welfare of millions of women and families worldwide. For the last eight years, healthcare providers abroad have faced unconstitutional restrictions on the advice they can give—tying one hand behind their back while working to provide the best care possible for millions of at-risk women. I applaud President Obama for lifting this un-American global gag rule and putting the health of women and children first."

Crowley said Obama's action would trigger the release of international development funds to family planning programs throughout the world.

Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D- Queens/Manhattan) also praised the president for repealing the global gag rule and "reversing eight years of misguided policy". "In repealing the global gag rule, President Obama has stopped the export of our divisive politics and renewed the export of our rights and values of free speech and expression," Maloney declared.

"I proudly stand with him and will work within Congress to increase funding for family planning services abroad so that women's lives may be treated with the respect they deserve and help achieve our overall policy goals of increasing democracy abroad."

VICTORY FOR WEINER IN SIGHT?: During a visit to the Statue of Liberty last week, incoming Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stated, "Having this icon of America open to the public is very important," exactly what Congressmember Anthony Weiner (D- Queens/Brooklyn) has been campaigning for. It looks like the Forest Hills lawmaker might win his fight to get the statue's crown open to the public.

The next step is the release of a report, due in April, which the Bush Administration ordered to study the possibility of reopening the crown. Weiner, who accompanied Salazar on his visit, said afterward, "We finally have a sympathetic ear."

VOTE ON HOLDER'S CONFIRMATION: The U.S. Senate is expected to approve Eric Holder for U.S. Attorney General today, making the East Elmhurst-raised lawyer the first African American to hold the nation's top prosecuter's post in history. President Barack Obama nominated Holder for the job several weeks ago.

Republicans delayed the vote until today to give them more time to question Holder about a pardon granted to a New York financier by former President Bill Clinton when his term ended about eight years ago. Holder was then the Deputy Attorney General.

ELECTIONS: Julissa Ferraras, a candidate for the 21st Council District seat in Jackson Heights- Corona vacated by now state Senator Hiram Monserrate, picked up the endorsement of local 32 BJ, Service Employees International Union recently. The special election to fill Monserrate's seat will be held on Tuesday, February 24. Union officials of Local 32 BJ said 2,000 of their members who reside in the 21st Council District will turn out to help Ferrares get elected. Ferrares, formerly chief of staff to Monserrate, has also been endorsed by the Working Families Party, UFCW Local 1500 and the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council.

NOCERINO FUNDRAISER: Joseph R. Nocerino, a candidate in the fall election for the 29th Council District seat expected to be vacated by incumbent Councilmember Melinda Katz, will hold a fundraiser tomorrow night from 7 to 9 p.m. at PJ's Steak House, 73-11 Yellowstone Blvd. in Forest Hills.

Nocerino, an employment agency manager, is expected to run in a crowded Democratic Party primary field that will also include former Councilmember Karen Koslowitz, now Deputy Queens Borough President; former Assemblymember Michael Cohen; Lynn Schulman, who was defeated by Katz in 2001; Bob DeLay, a former aide to Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi; Mel Gagarin, an ex-aide to Congressmember Anthony Weiner, and Heidi Harrison Chain, president of the 112th Police Precinct Community Council.

The district takes in Forest Hills, Rego Park and Middle Village.

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