At her first Sunday press conference as senator in New York City, Kirsten Gillibrand reiterated her support for “hunters’ rights,” calling it a “core value for our region and for our state,” but said her “advocacy will become broader.”
She also promised eager reporters, “You will see me wherever you want to see me.”
Gillibrand – in a black pantsuit outfit reminiscent of her predecessor, Hillary Clinton – was answering questions from reporters who had waited for her in a small nook outside the main lobby of the Waldorf Astoria. For nearly an hour, Gillibrand dined downstairs with Governor David Paterson, Senator Chuck Schumer and Clinton.
They chatted quietly at a table in the back of Oscar and Bull while photographers snapped the four of them together. After the meal, Clinton and Schumer left without coming upstairs to speak to reporters.
Gillibrand was escorted to the podium upstairs by Paterson, who fielded two questions and then left (he said he was on his way to a swearing-in ceremony, but did not elaborate). That left Gillibrand to manage her first Sunday press conference by herself.
Her first question was about her position on guns, which has been criticized by Michael Bloomberg and her fellow New York representative, Carolyn McCarthy of Long Island.
“I will always believe in protecting hunters’ rights,” said Gillibrand, before expressing a shared concern with those in “our city communities” about the dangers of illegal guns and gun violence. Later, she said “there is such a different debate about how to keep our streets free from gun violence.”
Gillibrand noted her vote in support of legislation to make it easier to perform background checks “to make sure people with mental instability do not have access to guns,” which she called a “cornerstone” of the McCarthy position.
“I voted for that legislation and that is where that common ground exists,” Gillibrand said. “I didn’t have any big towns in upstate New York. We didn’t suffer from the tragedy of gun violence on the same level that lots of downstate places have.”
Now that she represents the entire state, “my advocacy will become broader,” she said.
When asked about her meeting with the state leaders, Gillibrand said, “We talked a lot about the economy” and that “one area we all agreed on was that we really want high-speed rail.”
She said it was unclear whether they could secure funding for it in the latest economic stimulus package coming out of Washington, but said it was pivotal. “Because if you want to get economic development in this state, and around this state, if you can have a high-speed rail straight up the 87 corridor all the way to Montreal and then straight across to Buffalo and ultimately back down in a triangle, what you’re going to do is create an economic development engine for decades.”
Not only would that create jobs, but “it means for the financial service industry, you can put back offices, upstate, or in western New York, not necessarily in our lovely neighbors, Connecticut or New Jersey. We can put them in other places in New York State.”
She ended the press conference by saying that she’ll be sworn into office sometime Tuesday, and, as reporters shouted questions, she said, “You will see me wherever you want to see me.”
Gillibrand walked through the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria, stopping occasionally to talk to a few onlookers. Reporters and photographers swarmed around her. Cameramen walked backwards to capture her every step. Her spokeswoman Rachel McEneny told reporters following them that she didn’t have new business cards with her contact information printed yet and repeated her cell phone number as the entourage moved through the lobby.
Asked about all the media attention she was getting, Gillibrand said, “It’s different, that’s for sure. I never had that before. But we have a great press corps in upstate and we really admire them and work with them, and so, we like the press. You just have a lot more of it here. We don’t have this many cameras, this many stations, this many reporters.”
When I asked if she was prepared for all the scrutiny, Gillibrand said, “I have a Sunlight report,” referring to her practice, following a pledge to the pro-transparency Sunlight Foundation, to make her daily schedule available online to the public. “I like it, it’s good for government.”
Gillibrand left the building, turned the corner and – before hopping in a van waiting for her, stopped to talk to reporters again.