In a Manhattan Office Building, Kirsten Gillibrand Meets Her Constituents

Hillary Clinton’s old digs were stiflingly hot yesterday afternoon, teeming as they were with close to 150 eager New Yorkers, all of whom had taken the elevator to an “open house” event on the 26th floor of the red granite building on Third Avenue to welcome Clinton’s replacement, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, to her new city offices.

“Feel free to mingle wherever,” said a staffer, trying to impose some order on the swelling crowd eager to press the new senator’s hand, remind her of their existence and keep certain issues on her crowded radar.

Sandra DeFeo, a comely redhead in a pink wool suit who is co-executive director of the Humane Society of New York, was there to talk about animal shelters. (The economy has forced a number of them to close, further stressing surviving shelters.)

“Senator Gillibrand has been very supportive of the Society,” said DeFeo, owner of two cats named Erick and Barak and a Dog named Willis, who, she said, has a blog.

(Sample entry from the Willis Blog, dated March 17: “Modesty prevents me from going on about this, but I feel the recent announcement that the prestigious Chicago Sears Tower building had been renamed the Willis Tower deserves some mention here. To all my friends and readers, please know that I have taken this recognition in stride, and that it will in no way compromise my mission or interfere with the work at hand.”)

The one-hour “Open House” had started at 2 p.m., and the sizable crowd, many of whom had arrived early, swelled into a room to the right, a long rectangular space outfitted with 14 computers for Clinton’s former battalion of interns. A table held modest refreshments: a cantaloupe, honeydew and grape fruit salad, cookies, Coke.

Catherine Lederer-Plaskett, president and chair of the Westchester Coalition for Legal Abortion, introduced herself to a reporter.

“She has a phenomenal record on choice,” she told me. She wore a small silver key on the left lapel of her blue-striped blazer that read, “Pro Choice Vote.”

“We have an anti-choice Congress, we have an anti-choice State Senate,” she said. “People say we have Obama, and we’re fine. We’re not! Obama appointed Tim Kaine, who is anti-choice, to the DNC!”

The tall, elegant Mary Ellen Courtney, member of the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy, which advocates for greater female involvement in politics, ambled by. She was there on her lunch break from the city comptroller’s office, where she works on restitution and law-and-order issues (trips and falls, arboricide, and the like). She discussed women’s rights with a vaguely patrician, hard-to-place accent (she confessed to working with an actor friend of hers to acquire a less obvious Queens brogue).

“I’m rock-solid for her,” she said, of Gillibrand. “Maybe I may be more for gun control, but I’m for hunter’s rights, and we need a bigger tent.”

It was past 2:30, and the senator still hadn’t arrived. Oliver Spellman, of the National Parks Conservation Association, Northeast region, waited patiently.

“Our goal is to have the national parks fully funded by 2016, the centennial of the National Park Service,” Spellman said. Right now, the parks are, as he delicately put it, “underfunded.”

“You look at Central Park, you look at Prospect Park, and then you look at Gateway National park—it should be an iconic national park that serves citizens of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut,” he said.

A few minutes later, quite fashionably late, Gillibrand arrived. She had porcelain skin, straight blond hair and an outfit all shades of gray.

“Hi, that’s right, it’s nice to see you, thank you for coming,” she said over and over and over again, occasionally allowing her eyes to drift downward to the name tag stuck on the supplicant’s blazer.

She stopped to do an interview with NTDTV, a Chinese-language station based in New York. She faced the camera and said something in Mandarin—a skill she picked up during her study abroad in China and Taiwan—and then invited her new constituents to her office anytime they had a federal issue.

“It’s right on Third Avenue. What’s the address?” she asked one of her aides, who replied, “Seven-eighty.”

“Seven-eighty,” she said to the camera.

She had been planning to make formal remarks. But by the time she had finished the interview and made a full turn around the room, the crowd was sated, the hour had passed, and most everyone was gone.

In a Manhattan Office Building, Kirsten Gillibrand Meets Her Constituents