11:53 am Mar. 20, 2012
Inside the upstairs union hall of the Hotel Trades Council yesterday afternoon, approximately 200 supporters cheered the official nomination of Kirsten Gillibrand for a full six-year term in the Senate, and enthusiastically waved the number-less "GILLIBRAND" signs that her campaign first used back in 2010.
The signs might be the same, but the message in 2012 will be quite different.
"My goal is to really run on my record, what I've done, what I've accomplished and what I've fought for," Gillibrand told reporters after an acceptance speech in which she rattled off a litany of accomplishments. "And I think that's what elections are all about."
Two years ago, running in her first statewide race, Gillibrand didn't have the luxury of much of a legislative record to run on. She had been plucked from an upstate House district just a year before and, lacking seniority, she didn't make much progress with any of her initiatives.
Furthermore, she couldn't really run on her relatively conservative record in the House, which was at odds with the more liberal identity she had established for herself since becoming a senator.
So the campaign, which never drew any of the big-name challengers who were the subject of perpetual rumors, focused on issues like reform and transparency, and the idea that Gillibrand had been in Washington just long enough to know it was "broken."
In her speech yesterday, she gave the capital's brokenness only an obligatory mention, focusing instead on what she had accomplished by finding "common core values" where legislators could agree.
"What I've found in my very short time in the U.S. Senate and in Congress is that when you do find those issues, you can bring together people," she said.
She didn't spend much time on her modest "Senator Working Mom" agenda her team had crafted in the wake of her Senate appointment, though she did mention a ban on drop-side cribs, and the need to protect against unhealthy products and combat child obesity.
She focused on the 9/11 health care bill, and the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell--two of her legislative initiatives that passed shortly after she won in 2010, during the lame-duck session before Republicans officially re-took control of the House. (The ban on drop-side cribs also came that month, if you were wondering.)
Gillibrand had been nominated by John Feal, the outspoken first responder who helped patrol the halls of Washington to pass the 9/11 bill, who called her "the greatest woman I know," and scoffed at the Republican notion that she "hasn't accomplished anything."
"Even [Republican congressman] Peter King has got to be scratching his head on that one," Feal said.
The nomination was seconded by Queens Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who said she "has brought a critical line needed in the Senate against Republicans' attempt to make it their decision whether women should have access to basic healthcare like birth control medication and reproductive care."
Gillibrand also returned to her frequent theme of a Republican war on women, but framed in the broader point about jobs and the economy.
"The question is, why aren't women's voices being heard?" Gillibrand asked the crowd. "Carolyn Maloney couldn't have said it better when she said where are the women? When the first panel on contraception had not one woman testifying at that hearing.
"So I think we can all agree that nobody's boss should determine what kind of medicines a woman should be eligible to take. So when the Republican Party takes us down this line, I ask the question: if we had 51 percent of women in Congress, do you think we'd be debating contraception? No, we'd be talking about jobs, we'd be talking about the economy, and manufacturing and the wellbeing of our familes."
Asked after the speech about the criticism from one of her Republican opponents, Representative Bob Turner, that she has contributed to high gas prices, Gillibrand said: "Well we'll see who my opponent is after the primary, but I'm very focused on what I can do to bring the price of gas down but also how to help our economy grow and create jobs."
When a reporter wondered if having a divisive, three-candidate Republican primary was helpful, she found a way to talk again about jobs.
"My job is to serve the people of New York State, so I'm very focused on the economy, very focused on jobs," she said. "I will address whoever my opponent is after they emerge from the primary."
And, asked if she felt like she had come a long way since her appointment in 2009, it was, one more time, about jobs.
"It takes time you know," she said. "I represent a state of 20 million people. It takes a while to meet as many as you can, and get around the state. And I'm very proud of what I've been doing in the Senate these last two years, because I've really been fighting for middle class tax cuts, and for investments into our economy and into jobs."