Gov. David Paterson, in appointing Democratic U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to fill the vacancy left by former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, tapped an energetic lawmaker who has a legitimate understanding of issues north of the Tappan Zee Bridge.


 

Score one for upstate.

Gov. David Paterson, in appointing Democratic U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to fill the vacancy left by former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, tapped an energetic lawmaker who has a legitimate understanding of issues north of the Tappan Zee Bridge.

An Albany native who represented the state’s 20th Congressional District (which snakes from the upper Hudson Valley well into the North Country), Gillibrand is more of a political pragmatist than a party ideologue.

She opposes gun control and supports extending President Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, for example, placing her several steps to the right of her downstate party brethren. She is also known for understanding the distinct issues facing upstate and the New York City area, as well as the regions’ interdependency.

“She has made helping upstate her mission,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose 9th District includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens. “But she understands that New York City is the economic engine that makes the state go.”

She has proven popular with constituents in her Republican-leaning district. After defeating a four-term incumbent in 2006, she took nearly 70 percent of the vote in winning re-election in
November.

In her new role, she’ll have a tough act to follow in Clinton, who, whether she considered New York a political stepping stone or not, worked tirelessly while representing it. And that meant paying attention to western New York.

Clinton created the “Finger Lakes Trading Cooperative,” for example, to help expand markets for small businesses in the region. She was a forceful voice the fight to maintain services at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center after the Bush administration flagged it for closure. And she helped launch initiatives like the Farm-to-Fork program, to publicize local produce and market it new clients and customers.

Mostly, she was accessible and visible. Clinton — not unlike New York’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer — made clear she understood the challenges facing Western New York constituents by staying in touch with them, often in person. Prior to Schumer and Clinton, one was about as likely to see a bald eagle in the Finger Lakes as one of state’s two senators — be they Democratic or Republican.

Gillibrand — who worked on Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign — will need to carry on that attention to detail when it comes to upstate concerns.

Her experience and record offer every indication that she will.

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