NY Times Sniffs: Sen. Gillibrand Too Conservative for Multi-Ethnic State of New York

January 28th, 2009 3:18 PM

Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand is the new senator from New York, replacing Hillary Clinton, who resigned her Senate seat to become Secretary of State in the Obama administration. But the New York Times hasn't exactly rolled out the welcome mat. So far the paper has done little but nag Gillibrand for being insufficiently liberal, pushing her to back away from her stands against amnesty for illegal immigrants and her support of gun rights.

A Metro section story by Kirk Semple on Wednesday, "Drawing Fire on Immigration, Gillibrand Reaches Out," argued that Gillibrand must adapt by moving to the left to appease her diverse and apparently angry vast new constituency.

During her one term in the House of Representatives, from a largely rural, traditionally Republican district, Kirsten E. Gillibrand was on safe political ground adopting a tough stance against illegal immigration.

Ms. Gillibrand, a Democrat, opposed any sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants, supported deputizing local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws, spoke out against Gov. Eliot Spitzer's proposal to allow illegal immigrants to have driver's licenses and sought to make English the official language of the United States.

But since her appointment by Gov. David A. Paterson last week to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ms. Gillibrand has found herself besieged by immigrant advocates and Democratic colleagues who have cast her as out of step with a majority of the state, with its big cities and sprawling immigrant enclaves.

Caroline Kennedy was considered New York Gov. David Paterson's original choice for the seat. If Kennedy had not bowed out in chaotic fashion, would the Times now be running stories insisting that a Sen. Caroline Kennedy move to the right and broaden her appeal past her insular, Manhattan liberal elite (including Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger) friends? Doubtful.

Semple casually turned the race card:

The flap over Ms. Gillibrand's immigration record underscores the political challenges she faces as she broadens her political constituency from an overwhelmingly white district along New York's eastern fringe to the entire state. Census data show that about 21 percent of the state's population and 36 percent of New York City's residents were born overseas, said Andrew A. Beveridge, a demographer at Queens College.

Gun-control advocates, including Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a Democrat from Nassau County, have also taken sharp issue with Ms. Gillibrand's opposition to some gun control measures, with Ms. McCarthy threatening to run against her.

Is the liberal Carolyn McCarthy somehow more representative of the state of New York than Gillibrand?

Still, Ms. Gillibrand has not backed down from her long-standing opposition to "amnesty" for illegal immigrants, which has left some immigrant advocates wondering whether she would support any law that would establish a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

The Times characterized her voting record in the House as more conservative than her colleagues, although Gillibrand's record during her year of office was safely left-of-center. The American Conservative Union rated her voting record a whopping 8 points on a scale of 1-100. Despite that, Semple filled his reporting with warning signs:

In the House, where she served from 2007 until this week, Ms. Gillibrand frequently voted more conservatively on immigration issues than a majority of her Democratic colleagues.

In votes that pitted her against a vast majority of her fellow Democrats, she sided in favor of bills that required adult occupants of affordable housing to provide proof of residency and that penalized cities that protected undocumented immigrants, such as New York.

She also diverged from the overwhelming majority of Democratic representatives by voting in favor of bills that increased financing for law enforcement against illegal immigrants and that protected businesses requiring their employees to speak English on the job.

She is a co-sponsor of the SAVE Act, widely disparaged by immigrant advocates, which aims to crack down on illegal immigration with more border guards and surveillance technology, accelerated deportations and a mandatory program requiring employers to verify the immigration status of employees.

There was more scrutiny of Gillibrand's unwelcome nods to the center in reporter Michael Powell's "Welcomed in Washington, Scrutinized Back Home," who repeats the insinuation that Gillibrand is too conservative to represent the entire state in all its ethnic diversity:

She possesses a veteran politician's easy style, serving kisses on the cheeks to her colleagues and hugs for her nieces and nephews who came to witness her swearing-in. But the road from representing a rural and distinctly conservative district encircling Albany to taking responsibility for the entire state comes with sizable potholes.

Since Gov. David A. Paterson announced her appointment on Friday, she has been lashed for her positions on guns -- very much in favor -- and illegal immigration -- very much against -- with downstate Democrats rumbling about primary challenges.