Woman of the Week: Kirsten Gillibrand


Women make up 51% of the population, 19% of Congress, and 0% of past presidents.


Name: Kirsten Elizabeth Rutnik Gillibrand

Born: December 9, 1966 (age 46)

Current Office: U.S. Senator from New York

Political Party: Democratic Party

Residence: Brunswick, New York

Education: Bachelor of Arts (Asian Studies), Dartmouth College; Juris Doctor, University of California, Los Angeles School of Law


Why she is the Woman of the Week: As a politician, Kirsten Gillibrand certainly speaks to a newer generation of voters. By no means is this Senator a tunnel-vision partisan. She is full of seeming paradoxes, not least for being known as a “conservative liberal.” She is a Democrat from New York—upstate New York. If you did not think that was rare, she is the first upstate resident elected to a full Senate term in over fifty years. Not only that, she also won her seat with 72 percent of the vote, losing just two counties. Gillibrand once enjoyed a 100 percent approval rating from the NRA (her views on gun control recently shifting) voted against the Immigration Reform Act and the Wall Street Bailout, and is the first New York Senator on the Senate Agricultural Committee in 40 years. Yet, she is one of the most vocal proponents of gay rights, and was instrumental in overturning the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. Though once a part of the Congressional Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats, the never traditional Gillibrand also became the first Congressperson to publish her official schedule, earmark requests, and personal financial statement, her “Sunlight Report,” in an effort to introduced more transparency to the House, a move the New York Times praised as “a quiet touch of revolution.” Young and ambitious (she was the youngest Senator elected to the 111th Congress), she was nicknamed “Tracy Flick” by the New York congressional delegation, and is frequently compared to her mentor Hillary Clinton.

Background: Gillibrand grew up around strong, saavy women. Her grandmother, Polly Noonan, was heavily involved in Albany politics. She was a close confidante of Mayor Erastus Corning II and organized the secretaries in the state legislature, who became known as “Polly’s Girls.” Later Noonan became the president of Albany County Women’s Democratic Club. Gillibrand’s mother was no different—she was a second-degree black belt and one of three women in her law school class (and once aced a final from the hospital bed a day after giving birth). Even Gillibrand’s father—a lobbyist—was politically active. Gillibrand went on to graduate magna cum laude from Dartmouth and attend law school at UCLA. While working at a private law firm, Gillibrand started working with the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Forum, where she was inspired a speech Hillary Clinton gave on civic involvement. She went on to work for Hillary’s 2000 U.S. Senate campaign, where she focused on encouraging young women to get involved and also developed a mentor-like relationship with Clinton. In 2005 she left a partnership at a Manhattan law firm to run for Congress against a four-term incumbent. She won with 53 percent and went on to win her 2008 reelection by a 24-point margin. However, the same year, Governor Paterson appointed her to fill Hillary Clinton’s vacated Senate seat, a controversial decision for many downstate New Yorkers who believed her to be too conservative. Despite this, she handily won both the 2010 special election and her reelection in 2012.

Key Issues: Since coming to the Senate, Sen. Gillibrand has softened her more conservative stance on some issues, namely gun control and immigration. Once boasting that she keeps a rifle under her bed, she has recently supported stricter gun regulations in the wake of the Sandy Hook murders. She has also cited her close friendship with Gabriel Giffords, who was shot at the hands of a mentally ill gunman, for her shifting position, though she still asserts her support for the Second Amendment. Additionally, Gillibrand has also shifted on immigration, once opposing amnesty but now favoring a “path to earned citizenship.” On many issues, however, Gillibrand has been consistently progressive. Her support for reproductive rights has earned her a 100 percent rating from the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL: Pro-Choice America. Additionally, she is a staunch supporter of gay rights and championed the overturning of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Her Latest Headline: “Gillibrand praises Defense Department for extending benefits to LGBT military families” – Auburn Citizen


“We all have a prejudice, men and women: Here is this very attractive blonde woman, and the prejudice is—well, that she’s not a heavyweight. She is a heavyweight. She is going to make a real impact over the years.” – Steny Hoyer on Sen. Gillibrand



[Image Credit: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_T9ZYQKckaDc/TL3oDJP6WUI/AAAAAAAAIoA/0zbtvHMlMWw/s1600/img-kirsten-gillibrand_140410526155.jpg]

About author

Natalie Pate

Natalie is a junior from Charlotte, North Carolina majoring in History and Public Policy (with a concentration on Social Justice). She comes from a very politically engaged family, but truly discovered her passion for politics in her tenth grade Civics class. Since then, Natalie has volunteered and registered voters for presidential campaigns as well as worked in the office of U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC). In March of 2012, Natalie represented Vanderbilt at the National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement Annual Conference at Harvard University Institute of Politics. She now serves as a Senior Editor on Vanderbilt Political Review and writes the column "Real Women, Real Politics." Natalie is also Secretary of Vanderbilt College Democrats.

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