Janison: Amid uncertainty, Gillibrand win a sure bet

Dan Janison

Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison, Dan Janison

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10

bio | email

One clear irony emerged in political New York from this storm-battered, electricity-challenged, gasoline-deprived adventure of an Election Day. With so much sudden insecurity and human drama all around, the re-election of Kirsten Gillibrand as New York's junior U.S. senator stood as one of the day's few sure bets.

After a week full of official appearances in response to downstate storm trauma, the only female official elected statewide voted in Troy in the morning and needed only to change locale for the election-night conclave at the Sheraton in midtown Manhattan, poised to celebrate.

Suspense-free as it may have been, the win marks a huge milestone in her career.

Appointed by Gov. David A. Paterson in 2009 to fill out the term of Hillary Rodham Clinton, then-Rep. Gillibrand and her high rating from the National Rifle Association and other GOP-friendly positions looked like fodder for a Democratic primary challenge the next year for sure. It never happened.

Gillibrand, 45, securing a six-year term, travels a road to political permanence while the accidental and ultimately interim governor who tapped her is gone. She has defied the fate of other handpicked state figures -- such as appointed Sen. Charles Goodell, appointed Attorney General Oliver Koppell, governor-by-succession Malcolm Wilson -- who would suffer rejection at the polls.

Backed by powerful allies, she adjusted her positions to resemble those of senior Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, and raised funds and courted allies with the unabashed drive she once honed as a corporate lawyer. Gillibrand's would-have-been primary foes went away.

Even as the tea party appeared, Republicans huffed and puffed but never fielded a champion to convince New Yorkers that they'd be better off with a bipartisan team in Washington.

Once Gillibrand's campaign drew millions of dollars, her road to permanence at a high level seemed a lock. It wasn't going to be the role of the GOP to appeal to anti-money sentiments, certainly not in this year of super PACs rising. And the strategy of trying to paint Gillibrand as a strident left-wing radical lacked credibility if only for its overrating the incumbent's commitment to any philosophy that could risk her incumbency.

Republican attorney Wendy Long, in her first campaign, offered a coherent ideological contrast to her fellow Dartmouth alumna, but did so against the strong headwinds of a presidential turnout in a storm-ravaged, Democratic-dominated state.

For Long, even voting held a hurdle. The candidate said a New York City poll worker -- misinformed or worse -- falsely told her she had to vote in all races and not leave any blank, otherwise the scanner wouldn't accept it. But Long knew the system, voted as she chose -- and put out a statement warning others to know their rights as well.