By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
In the face of heated criticism from Hispanic advocates on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s voting record on immigration, New York Gov. David Patterson sat down Monday with the editorial board of the city’s biggest Spanish-language newspaper, El Diario/La Prensa, to defend his decision to appoint her to the Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I knew that her voting record on immigration was poor,” Patterson said, when asked whether he knew that Gillibrand held hard-line views on the issue. “I knew that. I didn’t know the specifics of her voting record. I knew some of her Customs and Border Patrol remarks, but I didn’t know substantially her entire record on voting.”
- You can watch a video at the El Diario/La Prensa website, clicking on:
Since being appointed to the Senate, Gillibrand, a former U.S. Representative from upstate New York, has met with Hispanic and pro-immigrant leaders to improve her reputation among this crucial constituency in the state. She even promised to support a moratorium on raids until Congress approves comprehensive reforms and to try to ensure an eventual temporary worker program includes a path to citizenship.
Her mellowing on immigration and other issues quickly earned her the scorn of state conservatives. Republican Congressman Pete King called her “a flip-flopper” this week, saying she is “doing contortions” on immigration, gun rights and gay marriage. King is evaluating running against Gillibrand next year, if he can raise the money to do so.
Voters in Gillibrand’s 20th Congressional District don’t seem happy either. “If you have a position, and this is what you feel, why would you change it just because you got a new job?” Michelle Boyea, 44, told The New York Times.
On the other side of the equation, New York City pro-immigrant voices are not yet convinced that Gillibrand is being honest. Daily News columnist Albor Ruiz wondered,
Has Kirsten Gillibrand suddenly seen the light? Or is she just another politician making a grab for immigrant votes?
Inevitably, the newly appointed senator’s quick metamorphosis on immigration issues will lead some to label her an opportunist. Yet others are willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Monday, Patterson said that he had had “a cursory understanding” of Gillibrand, but had still chosen her because “she seemed to be an open-minded person and a reasonable person” and because of “her ability to become familiar and to address issues as she became aware of them.”
Noting that the senator comes from “the most Republican-voting district” in the state, the governor told the editorial board:
Like a lot of local elected officials, they play to their audience, in other words, they become forceful.
…You all have covered races, congressional, legislative and Assembly races, and City Council races and State Representative, they are not as much (about) differences in ideology: it’s who can champion that ideology louder and more effectively.
Patterson also said he had taken into account the fact that there hadn’t been a senator from upstate New York in 41 years, and that the U.S. Senate still has only 17 female members, despite women being 52% of the American population.
The governor added he had considered appointing a Hispanic to the Senate seat.
“There has not been somehow, in 2009, a city or statewide Hispanic elected official at all,” he said. “(Bronx) Borough President (Adolfo) Carrión was being considered by the White House, and spoken to by the President. Congresswoman Velazquez withdrew her name for consideration. So I didn’t think I could find a qualified Hispanic to run for the U.S. Senate who wouldn’t be ‘primaried’ and wouldn’t have a difficult time raising the money. But it was a consideration…”
As for Sen. Gillibrand, as she has gotten to meet 17 (sic)elected officials and various civil and community leaders, you’re finding that her understanding quotient is higher, and her ability to change, it’s not political expediency, it’s her honest understanding of the issue.
Should she have learned all these things before? Yes, she should have… We all should learn a little more about the areas that we don’t know. But when you aspire to statewide service, that’s when you’re compelled to learn them and I think she is doing that very well.