ALBANY—Here's our new senator, expected to be named at noon.
Kirsten Gillibrand, 42, had never run for public office until 2006. She was first endorsed by the Saratoga County Democratic Committee in 2005 to run against Representative John Sweeney, a four-term incumbent.
Gillibrand at that time was a partner in the Albany law firm of Boies, Schiller and Flexner and the mother of a young son. But she comes from a politically connected family: her father is Doug Rutnik, a lawyer and lobbyist in Albany who married the daughter of Polly Noonan, a longtime pillar of the Albany Democratic machine and founder of the Albany County Women's Club.
Gillibrand got a quick and early boost from Hillary Clinton, and has always been close to the senator. Clinton appeared at an early fund-raiser for Gillibrand in late 2005. It is expected that Gillibrand will absorb some of her staff.
Gillibrand defeated Sweeney in 2006, defying expectations, by six points. He was hurt by the last-minute release of records indicating police were called to a domestic dispute at his house.
Wayne Barrett pointed out yesterday Gillibrand's ties to Republicans. In 2006, it was reported that Gillibrand and Rutnik dined at an Albany restaurant with a top official in the Pataki administration, leading many to theorize that she ran and Sweeney was defeated with the ex-governor's acquiescence.
Her district stretches from Columbia to Essex counties and includes about 70,000 more Republicans than Democrats. Gillibrand has consistently been to the right of the New York Democratic mainstream, taking positions on gun rights that angered an anti-gun advocacy group and led downstate Representative Carolyn McCarthy to vow a primary challenge against Gillibrand. In 2007, Gillibrand was rated the most conservative Democratic house member from New York by the American Conservative Union.
Gillibrand stirred some national ire this fall by voting twice against the financial bailout. But, as one prominent Democrat told me, Gillibrand was selected after intense lobbying by Senator Chuck Schumer. Which, apparently, counts for more here than the resentments of her House colleagues.