Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed Friday to the U.S. Senate and hailed as a lawmaker who can bridge upstate and downstate interests.
Gov. David A. Paterson announced Gillibrand as Hillary Rodham Clinton’s replacement in a pomp-filled press conference at the Empire State Plaza.
“I think that she is a tireless worker,” Paterson said. “She has this ability to persuade.”
Sen. Charles Schumer said that he believes that Gillibrand may moderate her views — especially her conservative stance on gun rights — after talking to more people around the state.
“I am confident that as Kirsten comes to see the cities of the state and sees the problems of gun violence, her views will evolve to reflect the whole of the state,” Schumer said.
Gillibrand, 42, a conservative Democrat from Greenport in Columbia County, pledged to work with more liberal members of her party to find common ground on gun control and fight for women’s rights. But she also suggested that she would keep her roots by requesting to serve on the Senate’s Armed Services and Agriculture committees.
Gillibrand held those same assignments in the House of Representatives.
Helping veterans and farmers was regarded as a reason she kept her seat in a district where 42 percent of voters are Republican, 26 percent are Democrats, 25 percent are unaffiliated and 7 percent are enrolled in small parties.
Gillibrand said that dealing with the nation’s economic recession would be one of her first priorities as a senator.
“We will pass a wide-ranging stimulus package,” she said, adding that it will include investments in infrastructure and mass transit, including the possibility of high-speed rail from New York City to Albany to western New York.
Developing and marketing alternative energy sources, making early childhood education and college more affordable for parents and lifting the tax burden on property owners are among Gillibrand’s other priorities, she said.
“I will represent the many diverse views and voices of New York state,” she said.
Gillibrand was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2006 and was re-elected last year by 62 percent of the voters.
Now, she will fill the Senate seat vacated by Clinton, who was appointed secretary of state by President Barack Obama. In November 2010, the seat will be up for election for the rest of the term, which runs through the end of 2012.
On Friday, Gillibrand greeted members of the New York Democratic delegation who assembled onstage, and then she and Paterson took a break from the festivities to take a telephone call from Obama. Gillibrand and Obama congratulated each other on their new positions.
In the two months since Obama announced Clinton’s selection, Paterson asked for names of interested Senate candidates, got a completed questionnaire from each and then narrowed the field after speaking with elected officials and civic leaders, he said Friday.
Speculation about who would get the seat ran high, and Caroline Kennedy was the most high-profile of the 10 to 20 candidates until she backed out on Thursday.
“A lot of times, elected officials get out and they make these decisions and they say, ‘I wrestled with this decision,’ ” Paterson said. “In retrospect, I wish that I had not shown all of you the wrestling match.”
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo never asked for the seat, Paterson said Friday. He kept Cuomo on the list only in case he couldn’t find someone else qualified because he didn’t want to have an appointed attorney general, he said.
But on Friday after all of the anticipation and hype, Gillibrand already seemed like the inevitable choice.
“I thought so from the beginning,” said Al Turkheimer, chairman of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee. “She’s responsive, she’s responsible and she puts people first.”
Paterson said he didn’t pick Gillibrand because she’s a woman, but the fact that she’ll be one of 16 female Senators didn’t escape other observers.
“It’s a very good choice on his part. To replace a strong Democratic woman with another strong Democratic woman will serve the people well,” said Joanne Yepsen, a Saratoga Springs supervisor.
Gillibrand said that she will fight for women’s rights, a nod to the National Organization for Women, whose political action committee backed U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney for the Senate seat.
NOW’s New York state office said Friday in a release that it is pleased that Gillibrand got the position and is looking forward to working with her.
Public officials and groups from all over lauded Paterson’s choice in statements released Friday, including EMILY’s List, which recruits female candidates and mobilizes women voters, the American Farmland Trust and even the Capital District Young Republicans Club.