In a union hall in Mineola this afternoon, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand waited in a backroom while her would-be challenger Jon Cooper–a Suffolk County legislator who was the last elected official to publicly consider running–announced that he won’t be going up against her in the Democratic primary next year. After Mr. Cooper’s speech, Senator Gillibrand emerged–to the surprise of the crowd–and accepted the endorsement of her erstwhile critic.
“If I didn’t think Senator Gillibrand was the real deal, I wouldn’t have made the decision I did today,” Mr. Cooper told me after the event. “I wouldn’t have endorsed her. I would have just sent out a press release, but I think she’ll vote the same way I would have voted, and she’ll stand up for progressive values.”
The decision comes after a mutual friend and member of the D.N.C. arranged a private Capitol Hill dinner between the two, at which Senator Gillibrand personally made her case as a true progressive. After the dinner, Mr. Cooper said, Ms. Gillibrand’s office forwarded him records and correspondence that reassured him she had always been a supporter of issues like gun control and gay rights.
Mr. Cooper said he had received a number of calls urging him not to run–though he declined to say from whom, or whether any had come from the White House. But he said it wasn’t the phone calls, nor the endorsements and campaign cash Ms. Gillibrand has stockpiled for any potential challenge.
“The dinner was the game-changer,” Mr. Cooper said. “My rationale for running against Gillibrand had fallen away. I no longer believed that she was a flip-flopper. My spiel had gotten pretty good, but I couldn’t do it anymore because I no longer believed it.” He called his previous view a “misperception.”
“My ignoring that information and running anyway would be like our declaring war on Iraq because they have weapons of mass of destruction,” said Mr. Cooper, who became an early supporter and fundraiser for Barack Obama, after breaking with Hillary Clinton over her vote on the Iraq War.
While the endorsement of Mr. Cooper, who is openly gay, would seem to bolster Ms. Gillibrand’s credentials within the gay community, he may be of more help as a former skeptic turned enthusiast. Mr. Cooper said he’ll spend the next few weeks trying to convince his supporters of Ms. Gillibrand’s progressive commitment.
As for his own future, Mr. Cooper said he’s received a number of calls urging him to challenge State Senator Carl Marcellino, but said he’s “disinclined” toward such a run. “Congress, U.S. Senate would be one thing,” he said. “Albany is another matter.”