This is not a knock, necessarily, at Gillibrand’s qualifications, or at President Barack Obama and his Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s recent appeal for “party unity.”
It is an appeal to reaffirm the democratic process and the opportunity to have real voter choice in our leadership.
Let us explain.
Two years ago, the elder statesmen of the national Democratic Party tried to discourage a very inexperienced Senator from Illinois from throwing his hat into the presidential ring. This misguided attempt at “party unity” was supposed to give Hillary Clinton an easy path to the Democratic nomination.
Well, we all now know that this was disregarded and that because of a vigorous and hard-fought Democratic primary campaign, a strong, battle-scarred nominee sailed to victory in November and has led the party’s resurgence in 2009.
How soon have Obama and his chief of staff forgotten that valuable lesson? It only took 120 days in power for the president, Emanuel and New York Senior Senator Chuck Schumer to “bigfoot” the upcoming race and chase Long Island Rep. Steve Israel (and then Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer) from New York’s Democratic Senate primary. Both of these men would have been worthy opponents to Gillibrand; Stringer is a particular “favorite son” of ours, with his West Side roots in the State Assembly and now with his vigorous and impressive work as Manhattan Borough President during the last three years.
As another Manhattan Media publication, City Hall, recently reported, Emanuel told Israel that the White House would try to scare off Israel’s potential donors and that the president himself would campaign in New York’s African-American neighborhoods against Israel if he decided to do something as bold as simply exercise his American right to run for higher office in a contested primary.
Is this because Gillibrand’s pro-gun and anti-immigration past are in sync with the new progressive president’s agenda? Or her dubious opposition to a government bailout (TARP funds) that helped New York’s financial industry re-start its much-needed recovery? On the contrary, Gillibrand was probably not Obama’s first (or second or third) choice for New York Senator. We suspect that his early and loyal supporter, Caroline Kennedy, might have been more to his liking.
But preserving Democratic campaign dollars for states where vulnerable Republicans can be picked off in 2010 proved to be more important than allowing an open election for our Senator in 2010.
Shameful anti-democratic behavior? Hypocritical politics?
Yes and yes.
This is New York’s Senate seat, not Obama’s, and New Yorkers should get a chance to decide who sits in it through a real primary.
Now we are left with one last hope for a meaningful Democratic challenger to Gillibrand and the White House’s bully tactics: East Side Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who is currently Chair of the House-Senate Joint Economic Committee and has done impressive work in D.C. for the past 16 years.
Some of her supporters are discouraging her from attempting this race; they say she can’t win because she’s too far behind in raising money.
Let those naysayers speak to David Axelrod and others who bucked the party in 2007 and decided to take a risk on the Obama campaign when it seemed, at best, a long shot.
Maloney has had a distinguished Congressional career since 1993, and before that in the New York City Council. She has worked tirelessly to represent her constituents by getting funds for the Second Avenue subway, even in trying economic times, as well as pushing hard for the East Side-Queens rail link (East Side Access). She has even attended to seemingly smaller issues, like getting a new public high school built in her district earlier this decade, the now prestigious Eleanor Roosevelt High School.
She has championed many women’s issues and recently authored important legislation on credit card reform that the president pushed forward.
We don’t know much about Gillibrand yet, and she may turn out to be a great Senator one day.
But we do know one thing: no one should become Senator for six years (and then likely for life) because she was chosen in a chaotic process by an unelected governor and then elected without a primary challenge.
Primaries and general elections test the mettle of candidates and make them better. Even Obama would admit that. They also give voters a broader choice of representatives beyond whom the party thinks is best qualified for the job. Gillibrand, if she merits our vote, needs to tell us more about where she’ll lead our great state, why she was supported by the NRA, why she voted against the economic interests of Wall Street and New York City, and why she defended tobacco companies for so long in the private sector.
We deserve a real campaign in 2010 and we think East Side-Queens Congress Member Carolyn Maloney is the best person to assure this.
“Choice” should mean more to Democrats than a stance on abortion rights. Choice should be a movement for more, not fewer, candidates for public office.
That’s real change we can all believe in.
Run, Carolyn, run.
Yes, you can!
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