[Kirsten Gillibrand joins us in the comments today. Please give her a big FDL welcome — and, as always, please stay on topic in Blue America threads, and please be polite. — CHS]
Growing up in Brooklyn, I never could understand how a Jewish person, in this case, New York's senior Senator, Jacob Javits, could be a Republican (who, I was already convinced at a young age, were nothing but a bunch of authoritarian right wingers like Barry Goldwater and Strom Thurmond). But Javits was a different kind of Republican — a liberal (they don't have them anymore) — and so was my college housemate's uncle, Gerald Solomon.
I was a political science major and I was excited that my housemate had a congressman, albeit a Republican one, for an uncle. He represented a gigantically sprawling upstate district, so long that people in the southern part, Dutchess County, commute to New York City while people in the middle, say Rensselaer County, work in Albany, and people way up in Essex County…well, they could work in Montreal if they wanted to.
When Gerald Solomon retired in 1998 after being a congressman basically forever, a whole slew of mainstream Republicans like himself lined up to take his place. In fact there were nine. Solomon said 8 of the 9 were well-qualified to represent the area and only one was unqualified: John Sweeney, a right wing imbecile and slavish hack to New York Governor George Pataki.
Sweeney refused to join the debates and the other candidates split the mainstream vote, allowing Pataki's clone to waltz in to Congress in a heavily Republican district.
About 55% rural and only 2% African-American, Bush beat Kerry with 54% of the vote (and Sweeney took 66%, against Doris Kelly, a Democrat who spent just over $20,000 on the race, against Sweeney's $1.4 million). Well, in 2006 Sweeney may be tap-dancing but he sure isn't waltzing, and his current opponent, Kirsten Gillibrand, our special guest today at Firedoglake, has the resources to match Sweeney's corporate bribes.
Anyone interested in the nonstop foibles of one of the least competent members of Congress, can spend hour and hours reading the fascinating stories about Sweeney at 20TrueBlue, a blog dedicated to shining a bright light on Sweeney's ineptitude, buffoonery and faithlessness. And if you still want more, there's always the wonderfully-written Democracy In Albany blog.
Or you could go out on the stump with Kirsten, a brilliant and charismatic attorney (and mom) who doesn't hesitate to tell it exactly like it is when it comes to the hapless, in-way-over-his-head Sweeney.
"John Sweeney," she told me a few weeks ago, "hasn't been a strong advocate for the needs of this district or for the needs of middle class families… He has been a supporter of Medicare Part D– keeping people here from buying affordable drugs across the border and keeping the U.S. government from negotiating bulk rates for drugs…"
And that isn't the only beef Kirsten has had with Sweeney.
"He's voted against almost every kind of veterans benefit you could vote against– from health care, job training, and education to housing opportunities. He's voted 100% with George Bush on the Iraq war and has never once asked the tough questions it would take to start to hold the president accountable for his decisions… When Mr. Sweeney ran for office, he told voters he firmly opposed NAFTA– and then immediately supported CAFTA, took a trip to the Dominican republic and watched 100,000 manufacturing jobs in New York State get shipped overseas."
Kirsten is ready for real leadership and will be on the team that is tasked with cleaning up the horrendous mess made by Bush and rubber stamp nitwits like Sweeney. She's running on middle-class taxcuts, like making college tuition tax deductible, rather than on the kinds of tax cuts for millionaires Sweeney has supported– while he has consistently voted against raising the minimum wage (while voting to give himself 8 pay raises).
Kirsten sees the problem of energy independence as both a matter of national security and as a way to spur economic development and environmentalism.
"Folks in our district are very concerned with the price of gas. They are also concerned that this Administration and Congressman Sweeney have refused to stand up to Big Oil. As a consequence people believe that the oil companies have been manipulating the market. No one will be surprised to see has below $2.50/gallon by election day and over $3/gallon a few days after. One of the first things I want to do when I'm elected to Congress is to investigate the oil industry for market manipulation."
Kirsten is also a self-described "hawk" when it comes to finance reform in politics. She's made a pledge to the voters– a kind of IOU— that outlines what her constituents can expect of her in terms of ethics.
Kirsten came to politics younger than most people, mostly because her grandmother had been a secretary in the New York legislature.
"All the legislators were men and all the secretaries were women. My grandmother organized the Women's Democratic Club of Albany. She was a pioneer for women's rights in this area… When you care about something deeply, you have to stand up for it and you have to fight for it. And you have to put your whole heart and soul into it. I'm running because we need a new direction in this country and we need leaders who are willing to fight for our values and putting our families and our priorities first."
Can she win? Most polls show an even split.
The last Democrat who went up against Sweeney spent, as I mentioned earlier, less than $24,000, while Sweeney spent $1.4 million. Kirsten has already raised well over that. I also mentioned it's a very Republican district. It is, but polls show that less than a third of the residents approve of the job Bush has been doing as president.
Voter registration in NY-20 is not an insurmountable problem. The Republicans there are fiscally conservative, socially progressive and pro-environmental. Like Bush, Sweeney doesn't fit in with any of those precepts. They spend money like drunken sailors, allow Big Business despoil the environment for their bottom line and, of course, are completely reactionary and intolerant when it comes to social issues.
In the recent past, Democrats have won in NY-20. Schumer took a whopping 57% of the vote, nearly as many Republicans as the Republican candidate! When Spitzer ran for Attorney General he won with 59% in NY-20. He's on the ballot and campaigning for Kirsten, as is Hillary Clinton who is also expected to win big in the district.
Like everywhere, people are fed up with the Bush Regime and its disastrous policies and fed up with the rubber stamp enablers like John Sweeney. Some say it looks like a perfect storm scenario and I'm buying in to that, especially for a candidate as strong as Kirsten.
Please join me at the Blue America ActBlue page to let Kirsten know we appreciate her taking the stands she's taking and fighting an arrogant bully and Know-Nothing like Sweeney. The first 25 donors who add .05 to their contribution will get a copy of a great new CD, The Essential Donovan, his 14 greatest hits. And quite a few people have asked about the "Had Enough" Firedoglake clock that Ann made. Today we can give away a dozen to the first 12 people who donate at least $50 to Kirsten's campaign. Let's make sure Kirsten is with us in DC at the Blue America swearing in day party the first week in January.