Kirsten Elizabeth Rutnik Gillibrand (born December 9, 1966) is the junior United States Senator from the state of New York and a member of the Democratic Party. Prior to being appointed to the Senate by New York Governor David Paterson in 2009, she was elected twice to the House of Representatives, representing New York's 20th congressional district. Gillibrand was born and raised in the Albany area. She is a 1988 graduate of Dartmouth College, where she majored in Asian studies. She received her Juris Doctor from UCLA Law School in 1991 and passed the bar the same year. She was an associate in the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell in Manhattan before becoming a partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner in Albany. Gillibrand won an upset congressional election in November 2006, beating four-term incumbent John E. Sweeney 53% to 47%. Her reelection campaign in 2008 against Sandy Treadwell was significantly easier, winning 62% to 38%. In December 2008, President Barack Obama nominated Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State, leaving an empty seat in the New York senate delegation. After two months and many potential names considered, Governor David Paterson appointed Gillibrand to fill the seat. Gillibrand was required to run in a special election in 2010, which she easily won with 63% of the vote. Her term ends in 2013 and she is currently running for reelection in 2012. Originally known in the House for conservative and centrist liberal views, since her appointment to the Senate, Gillibrand has been seen more as a progressive Democrat. In both cases, her viewpoints were significantly defined by her constituency (a heavily Republican congressional district versus a largely liberal US state). In the House, Gillibrand was an opponent of strict gun control, against amnesty for illegal immigrants, and she voted twice against the 2008 bailout of the US financial system. In the Senate she focused on support of gay rights, authored legislation to crack down on illegal guns and gun traffickers, scaled back her former support of gun rights, and changed her views on immigration through support of the DREAM Act; she is best known for successfully championing both the repeal of Don't ask, don't tell and the adoption of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Gillibrand currently resides in Brunswick with her husband, Jonathan Gillibrand, a venture capitalist and British national, and their two sons, Theodore and Henry.
A member of a politically active family, Kirsten Rutnik was born on December 9, 1966 to Douglas Rutnik and Polly Noonan Rutnik. Her father is an attorney and lobbyist and is known for his close ties to Republicans Alfonse D'Amato (former United States senator) and George Pataki (former governor), although he himself is a registered Democrat. Gillibrand's mother is a retired attorney; the couple opened a law firm and practiced together until they divorced when Gillibrand was 22 years old.
Gillibrand has an older brother, Doug Rutnik, and a younger sister, Erin Rutnik Tschantret. Her maternal grandmother was Dorothea "Polly" Noonan, founder of the Albany Democratic Women's Club and a leader in Albany Mayor Erastus Corning's powerful political machine, which lasted for more than 40 years. Gillibrand grew up in Albany and was known by the nickname Tina, a name adopted by her brother when he couldn't pronounce "Kirsten". In 1984 she graduated from Emma Willard School in Troy and went on to Dartmouth College. As an Asian Studies major, she became functionally fluent in Mandarin Chinese; she studied in both Beijing and Taiwan and adopted a Chinese name, Lu Tian Na (陸天娜). She graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in 1988. While at Dartmouth, Gillibrand was a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. During college, she interned at Senator D'Amato's Albany office. ollowing Dartmouth, Gillibrand attended UCLA Law School and graduated with a Juris Doctor in 1991. She passed the bar the same year.
House of Representatives
Gillibrand's first run for office was in the 2006 race in New York's 20th congressional district against four-term Republican incumbent John E.
Sweeney. The 20th district encompasses all or part of Columbia, Dutchess, Delaware, Essex, Greene, Otsego, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren, and Washington counties. Traditionally conservative, it had been considered a safe seat for Republicans to such an extent that after redistricting in 2002, then-Congressman Sweeney was quoted as saying that “no Republican can ever lose” the district. In November 2006, the Republican Party held an enrollment advantage over Democrats of 82,737 voters (197,473 to 114,736). Gillibrand ended up winning with 53.10 percent of the vote (a 6-point lead). She began her first term on January 3, 2007 in the 110th Congress. Following her win, Republicans quickly began speculating about who would run against her in 2008. Len Cutler, director of the Center for the Study of Government and Politics at Siena College indicated that the seat would be difficult for Gillibrand to hold in 2008, noting the substantial Republican enrollment advantage. Gillibrand was noted for her skill at fundraising, giving her a leg up in her future appointment to the senate.
On December 1, 2008, President-elect Barack Obama announced his choice of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the junior U.S. Senator from New York, as United States Secretary of State. Clinton's nomination was confirmed by the Senate and she resigned her Senate seat on January 21, 2009, creating a vacancy in the Senate to be filled by appointment by Governor David Paterson until a special election in 2010 for the balance of Clinton's term, which ends in 2012. Gillibrand had been rumored by the media as one of several people, including Caroline Kennedy and New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, to be under consideration as Clinton's replacement. On January 23, Paterson announced his selection of Gillibrand as the junior Senator from New York. In attendance were Al D'Amato, in whose office she interned and who is one of only three living former Senators from New York (along with Clinton and James L. Buckley), and other New York State officials and some members of the New York Congressional delegation. Gillibrand officially took office on January 27, taking the oath of office from Vice President Joe Biden.
Soon after her appointment, Gillibrand's viewpoints on many political issues saw at least some change. Transitioning from representing a heavily Republican congressional district to a largely Democratic state is the given reason, though many in the 20th congressional district saw it as flip-flopping. Gillibrand, in association with Senator Schumer, was instrumental in Sonya Sotomayor's nomination to the US Supreme Court. On April 9, 2009, a combined Schumer-Gillibrand press release stated strong support of a Latino being nominated to the Surpreme Court at the time of the next vacancy. Sotomayor was their first choice. The two senators introduced Sotomayor at the Senate confirmation hearing in July; pundits and comedians took advantage of her long-windedness, which filled hours of television programming. During the lame duck session of the 111th Congress, Senator Gillibrand scored two substantial legislative victories: the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Both were issues she had championed during that session. In the aftermath of these victories, many commentators opined that these victories marked her emergence on the national stage. In 2011, Gillibrand visited her friend Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who had been shot in the head during the shooting in Tucson, and Giffords opened her eyes for the first time and squeezed Gillibrand's hand. The National Journal declared Gillibrand to be the tenth most liberal member of the Senate in 2010 (she tied Chuck Schumer).
Gov. Paterson's choice of Gillibrand was met with both praise and criticism. She was touted by some Democrats as a rising star in the Democratic Party. New York Democratic Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a vocal supporter of gun control who reportedly considered challenging Gillibrand in the 2010 primary because of this issue, expressed strong objections to the appointment of anyone with a 100% positive rating from the NRA. Senator Chuck Schumer, also a strong gun control advocate, supported the appointment and urged McCarthy to give Gillibrand a chance. McCarthy subsequently said she will not run for the seat. The New York Immigration Coalition also objected to the appointment based upon Gillibrand's views on immigration reform. President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid all expressed their support for the appointment. A Quinnipiac Poll in January 2009 showed that a plurality (46%) of New Yorkers polled expressed approval of Gillibrand's appointment to the Senate, but when asked if they have a favorable opinion of Gillibrand, 63% said they do not know enough about her yet. A Siena College poll at the same time showed twice as many respondents had a favorable opinion of her as had an unfavorable one (30–14%), but also reported a majority of respondents having neither a favorable nor unfavorable opinion.
Gillibrand is currently running for reelection. After winning the 2010 special election, Gillibrand serves the rest of Clinton's unfinished term, which ends in January 2013. The next election is in November 2012.