No matter what your opinion of Gov. David Paterson's choice of Kirsten Gillibrand to step in as the junior Senator from New York, it's undeniable that the former Upstate congresswoman has taken some heat from all corners for her stances on sensitive issues since her promotion. After a week in office, though, some of her initial detractors are taking a wait-and-see approach as Gillibrand officially introduces herself to her new constituency.
At a Sunday, Feb. 1, meeting with 16 Hispanic elected officials in Brooklyn, the topic of conversation was her stance on immigration policy.
Assemblyman Peter Rivera, D-Bronx, was apparently ready to publicly condemn Gillibrand before the meeting (a January press release said her immigration policy borders on xenophobia). Afterwards, he reportedly said that he would reserve judgment on the new senator, sparking many newspapers to report Gillibrand to be considering a shift in her stance.
Gillibrand spokeswoman Rachel McEneny said no one should be expecting total reversals of the senator's beliefs, but that she is keeping an open mind as she embarks on a statewide version of her "Congress on Your Corner" meetings she held in the 20th Congressional District.
"In the last couple of days, we have been meeting with many community leaders and elected officials," said McEneny.
In these closed-door meetings, Gillibrand has spoken candidly about her voting record and beliefs and has shared personal stories, McEneny said. Sometimes the people she's sitting down with have publicly expressed unease or outright hostility regarding her selection.
"She's representing all of New York state rather than just the 10 Upstate counties," said McEneny. "There are a lot of different individuals, and we want to make sure they know this is a New York senator who is responsive."
Even if Gillibrand strikes a new pose on immigration issues, she said she will continue to oppose driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, a 2007 proposal by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer that was widely panned.