They have since adopted five children, mostly from Latino families. They got married in Connecticut this April, on their 29th anniversary.
But the big, established gay advocacy organizations—like the liberal establishment in general—are already supporting Ms. Gillibrand, despite her reluctance to embrace gay issues during her earlier incarnation as a Blue Dog House member from a Republican-leaning district upstate.
“By all accounts, Senator Gillibrand has been an aggressive proponent of LGBT rights, and that’s the record I’m looking at now,” said Alan Van Capelle, the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. Last week, the Human Rights Council offered Ms. Gillibrand an early endorsement.
(Ms. Gillibrand’s office declined to respond directly to Mr. Cooper, offering the following statement from spokesman Glen Caplin: “While there has been a lot of misinformation out there, the fact is that Senator Gillibrand, as a mother of two and lawmaker, has always worked to protect children and families, promote equality and is now working closely with President Obama to rebuild the economy and create jobs here in NY.”)
Mr. Cooper is hoping to distinguish himself in other ways. One distinctive qualification he cited was his entrepreneurial background. After studying political science at Duke and traveling around Cuba and Europe, he returned to Long Island to join the family business, a company called Spectronics, which has grown to 160 employees under Mr. Cooper’s watch.
AS COUNTERINTUITIVE AS it may seem, given the White House’s proven willingness to lean on would-be challengers to Ms. Gillibrand, Mr. Cooper also thinks he may have an advantage because of his Obama ties.
Mr. Cooper says he met the future president at a fund-raiser in Manhattan—just before the young senator officially announced his campaign—and decided on the spot to endorse him, becoming perhaps the first elected official in New York to buck Hillary Clinton. He went on to serve on the campaign’s national finance committee, and bundled “in the high six figures”—enough that he began dreaming of an ambassadorship.
“After the election, on my way back from Madison Square Garden—I went to an Eagles concert with Rob—I had an hour to kill on the trains, so I whipped out my BlackBerry and started Googling different Caribbean countries and their ambassadors’ residences. I settled on Trinidad and Tobago until I found out they had anti-sodomy laws,” said Mr. Cooper.
The ambassadorship was never forthcoming, but Mr. Cooper said he still has friends in different parts of the White House. He declined to offer specific names, but wondered if, given his work for the campaign, the Obama administration might be more sympathetic to his run than it has been to other candidates.
“All I know is no one in the White House has asked me not to run. Chuck Schumer hasn’t asked me not to run,” he said. “Even though I’ve been the only elected official out there for some time now. And I have a good relationship with Chuck; I have a good relationship with Obama; they haven’t asked me not to run.”
Another possibility is that the White House simply does not see a legislator from Suffolk County as much of a threat.
“If you want to deal with the issue of traffic congestion in the village of Huntington, he does a very good job, and I don’t take it away from him,” said one New York Democratic leader who thinks Ms. Gillibrand is vulnerable to a strong primary challenger, but thinks Mr. Cooper is “delusional” for thinking he can upset her.
“We don’t deal with traffic, that’s city,” Mr. Cooper responded flatly. He prefers to talk about the legislation he introduced that was picked up nationally: an early ban on handheld cell phone use while driving, and what he said was the nation’s first ban on ephedra.
“I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been compared to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Mr. Cooper said. “It will be Mr. Cooper Goes to Wash—” he corrected himself. “It will be Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, to the nth power.”
He seems to believe it, too.