Spotlight Moves, Slowly, Toward Two More Non-Kennedys

As always, the speculation over who Governor David Paterson is likely to pick to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate is just that. Without Paterson indicating his thinking on the matter, the exercise can only amount to a political parlor game.

Of course, that hasn’t in any way prevented the city’s power brokers and political observers from enthusiastically playing said game, and among the candidates who have enjoyed renewed buzz this week are Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and Representative Kirsten Gillibrand.

As has been the case with other candidates, both Suozzi and Gillibrand have benefited from the fact that the vast majority of the public and media scrutiny has centered on Caroline Kennedy and, to a lesser extent, on Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

As a result, there hasn’t yet been a whole lot of public attention paid to the policy positions of candidates like Suozzi and Gillibrand that would be unusual for a Democratic senator from New York.

That Gillibrand, an upstate Blue Dog Democrat, is more conservative than most of the other candidates for Clinton’s seat is no secret to, say, her fellow members of the New York congressional delegation. But relatively few New Yorkers statewide even know who she is, let alone what her positions are.

In particular, Gillibrand does not like gun control. Her campaign web site boasts, “She has been an ardent opponent of legislation that will curb the Second Amendment for responsible gun owners and currently has a 100% voting record with the National Rifle Association (NRA).”

Her posture on immigration is also distinctly not that of a mainstream New York Democrat. On a page of her House web site that shows a passport resting on an American flag, she clearly states, “I am firmly against providing amnesty to illegal immigrants,” and highlights her sponsorship of a measure that proposed bulking up on border patrol agents and fencing along the border.

On the issue of gay rights, Gillibrand received an 80 out of a 100 rating from the LGBT advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign. That was the lowest score out of New York’s Democratic representatives. According to the Human Rights Campaign, she voted against the repealing of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation she declined to co-sponsor legislation that would have repealed the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, opposed legislation that would grant equal tax treatment for employer-provided health coverage for domestic partners, opposed legislation to grant same-sex partners of U.S. citizens and permanent residents the same immigration benefits of married couples and opposed legislation to permit state Medicaid programs to cover low-income, HIV-positive Americans before they develop AIDS.

That said, Gillibrand is not an ideologue. The positions she took were arguably necessary as a means of getting elected in a conservative-voting district. And there is a notion among political observers that if she represented the entire state, those positions would soften to better reflect New York’s more liberal complexion.

Suozzi is, in most ways, a straight-up centrist Democrat. The most vocal opposition to him has come from abortion rights advocates.

NARAL Pro-Choice New York has criticized Suozzi’s support for a ban on late-term abortion without an exception for the mother’s health. (In his 2006 race for governor, Suozzi seemed, eventually, to be opposed to such a ban.)

NARAL has also complained about Suozzi giving $3 million to church groups for abstinence-based sex ed.

Spotlight Moves, Slowly, Toward Two More Non-Kennedys