Enough already. This week’s fiasco over Caroline Kennedy, whether the result of “personal concerns” or the simple fact that New York Governor David A. Paterson had no intention of ever appointing her, has highlighted not only the dysfunctional state of New York politics, but also a failure of political imagination. Kennedy’s appointment, had it been made, would have been the ultimate bit of stunt casting. Today we know Paterson selected NY Representative Kirsten Gillibrand for the seat. This is a failure of imagination of another kind. Her colleague Rep. Carolyn McCarthy has already said that she won’t support Gillibrand — and for good reason: Gillibrand scored an “A” rating with the NRA last year for her extreme views on gun control. Says McCarthy:
“I’ve spent 15 years trying to prevent gun violence in this country, and if he does pick her and if no one goes and primaries her, I will primary her. I will do that. I’m not going to give up on this. I’m not going to let New York State get represented by someone who gets a 100 percent rating from the NRA. I will not show any support whatsoever. The majority of New Yorkers are trying to reduce gun violence. I just feel that everybody should know what her record is. If she changes, let’s see it.”
If Governor Paterson had been serious about appointing a lawmaker that would have made headlines and helped him get reelected, there was only one viable choice: United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who just happens to be a lesbian.
An anonymous source within the Paterson administration reached Queerty and expressed frustration that the gay and lesbian community had not done more to support her as a viable candidate for the Senate seat, saying “It’s time for the gay community to make some noise in support of a lesbian.” Considering that one candidate had already seemed like a shoo-in and collapsed, we’ll make the case, since in New York, like the weather, if you don’t like a political certainty, just wait a few hours.
As one of this nation’s top labor leaders, Randi would have had no problem raising the money to run for election in 2010, then again in 2012.
Gillibrand must now realize that she needs to begin campaigning immediately. Appointed legislators almost always lose reelection since voters prefer a candidate of their own choosing. If he wanted his choice to have any lasting impact, Paterson’s selection needed to be someone who is not just qualified to represent the state, but also capable of running a strong campaign on their own. As President of the UFT and American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten commands an army of 160,000 teachers statewide and 1.4 million across the country. She is widely regarded as one of the most powerful women in New York. Crain’s New York Business listed her in their ‘Power 25’ in 2007, saying at the time:
“To get what she wants, Randi Weingarten uses a tireless advocacy, loud voice and deft skill for crafting partnerships with city officials.Since 2002, the UFT has raised salaries for union-represented employees by 43%. “We must continue to debate how to bring teachers the respect they deserve,” she says.
While trying to gain greater stewardship of schools for educators and parents, Ms. Weingarten continues to lobby for fair wages and better conditions for teachers. “Our salaries were not competitive with those in the suburbs,” she says.”
“As head of both the UFT and the Municipal Labor Commission, a union coalition with more than 365,000 members, Weingarten has influence that reaches beyond the schools: She can swing close to a half-million votes.”
It would have sent a strong message had Paterson named a lesbian to the Senate seat.
As you’re no doubt aware, gays and lesbians have had a rough going the past few months, while simultaneously learning the valuable lesson that speaking up loudly for equality and inclusion is the best strategy for change. Boycotts and protests have had an effect on the actions of politicians and business leaders.
Now that Paterson’s selected Kirsten Gillibrand for the Senate seat, gays and lesbians should vocally protest the decision. She is a poor friend to the gay community. She has the lowest HRC LGBT rights score of any New York State Democratic legislator: when she was asked to support a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, she refused; when she was asked to support extending employer health care coverage to domestic partners, she refused; when she was asked to extend naturalization benefits to domestic partners, she refused; when she was asked to extend Medicaid to cover low-income HIV-positive Americans, she refused.This would be a deplorable record any time, but Paterson’s now sent the single-worst Democrat in New York on gay and lesbian rights to the Senate in place of Hillary Clinton.
Were Paterson to have selected Weingarten, the Senate would have had its first openly-gay member ever. The decision would have been historic, but it would also put a human face for gays and lesbians in the Senate chamber– a decision that could have a positive influence at a time when it’s likely that the Senate will be voting on several LGBT rights measures. Milk’s axiom that they will vote for us if they know us applies to the Senate chamber as much as it does anywhere.
As president of the UFT, Randi Weingarten would have brought an expertise on education and children’s issues to the Senate.
We would not support Weingarten simply because she is a lesbian. She brings a broad range of expertise to the Senate and her acumen on issues of education, children’s rights and labor are second to none. Gillibrand, pales in comparison. Her House committee positions are in Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture, the Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry, the Subcommittee on Seapower and Expeditionary Forces and the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Unconventional Threats. Weingarten’s union career has put her at the forefront of education reform. She has fought against school vouchers and private tuition tax credits and negotiated a controversial, but innovative contract that awarded bonuses to teachers when their student’s scores rose. Her skills at the negotiating table have shown her to be a woman capable of sticking to her guns, but capable of compromise.
New York politics have been a freak show in recent years. Were Paterson to have grown a pair and appointed Weingarten, he would not only have made history, he would have selected the best person for the job.