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February 10, 2009
by Rick Bell FAIA Executive Director AIA New York

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand at ABNY.

Rick Bell

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand opened by thanking the Association for a Better New York (ABNY) and its chair, William Rudin, for the opportunity to address a large crowd of civic leaders, elected officials, NYC commissioners, health care professionals, labor leaders, and builders. She pointed out that many in the room did not know her well, since her political ascent as an upstart and upstate member of Congress dates back only to 2006. Her speech, however, showed her political skills, referencing not only her grandmother (well-known in NYS Democratic circles), but former Senator Hillary Clinton’s speech in Beijing. Sen. Gillibrand said that it inspired her to ask herself, “What am I doing to impact this world, what am I doing to make a difference?” She added that to follow in the footsteps of the Secretary of State is an enormous honor, while attributing her job preparation at Davis & Polk as a securities lawyer and at HUD as special counsel to former HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo.

She quickly got to the heart of the matter: the economic stimulus package, and the differences between the Senate and House versions of the Recovery Act. Saying that solutions must come out of Washington, but also from the private sector, the newest Senator spoke of the need for short-term relief for the communities that need it the most. She added that long-term investment in early childhood education and for college tuition relief through expansion of Pell grants and tax credits was also needed and part of the package.

Among the other topics that the AIA brought to Capitol Hill last week during the Grassroots lobbying effort, Sen. Gillibrand addressed the stimulus package’s Senate-version sums for alternative energy ($42 billion), mass transit ($8.4 billion), and public housing ($5 billion). She said that the planned expansion of AmeriCorps aided “long-term programs that make a difference, that represent who we are.”

Echoing concerns expressed by architects last week at the VIA AIA! Leadership and Legislative Conference in DC, she noted that “the real problem is that the banks don’t want to lend,” and added, “The world is watching America right now — we need to bring ideas to the table that have a short-term and a long-term impact.” As founder of the high-tech caucus in the House, Sen. Gillibrand was cogent about the job creation possibilities in the high-tech and energy sectors, and spoke of green jobs and manufacturing opportunities for New York.

In the press conference afterwards she was open to questions about her evolving positions on guns and same-sex marriage, noting the difference between representing an upstate Congressional District where hunting is a tradition, and now being the Junior Senator for the entire state. She quoted Eleanor Roosevelt about the travails and scrutiny occasioned by her appointment: “A woman is like a teabag, you don’t know how strong she is until she’s in hot water.” From the back rows of the Hilton, she seemed strong enough to represent New York.

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