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Gillibrand draws opponents from both parties

While U.S. Senate designee Kirsten Gillibrand met yesterday with the state's top political power brokers in Manhattan, forces opposed to her began plotting against the upstate congresswoman.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), who is leading the Democratic opposition to Gillibrand, will today begin building the structure of a 2010 primary challenge, a McCarthy aide said.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said he's "seriously considering" a Senate run against Gillibrand in 2010. He variously called her selection by Gov. David A. Paterson a "fraud," "payoff" and a "backroom" deal.

And last night, there were unconfirmed reports among Democratic operatives that former Gov. George Pataki could seek to make a political comeback by challenging Gillibrand for the Senate seat next year. Pataki, now a lawyer in private practice, was not immediately available for comment, but it was a sign that Gillibrand's new status is still viewed as something tentative in the political world.

The bipartisan pushback to Gillibrand, a second-term congresswoman from upstate Hudson, comes as Paterson faces criticism from lawmakers and editorial boards for how he handled filling the Senate seat made vacant when President Barack Obama named Hillary Rodham Clinton the nation's secretary of state.

Clinton, Paterson, Gillibrand and Sen. Charles Schumer met for an hour yesterday at Oscar's restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan. Gillibrand, who has been criticized by McCarthy and others for her opposition to gun control, said afterward that she will work at "keeping violence away from the streets."

Paterson reiterated his support for Gillibrand and said she has "very big shoes to fill." Schumer and Clinton did not speak to reporters gathered at the hotel.

Gillibrand will be sworn into the Senate tomorrow by Vice President Joe Biden, her spokeswoman Rachel McEneny said.

McCarthy, whose opposition to Gillibrand is based on Gillibrand's history of opposing gun-control laws, will meet today with her fundraising team to begin planning a primary challenge to Gillibrand in 2010, said her spokesman, Ray Zaccaro.

"She's gearing herself up and getting herself organized," Zaccaro said.

The fault lines between state Democrats aligned for or against Gillibrand are beginning to form. Assemb. Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck) said Gillibrand's claims of being concerned about gun violence ring hollow.

"What she's saying is really not the truth," Schimel said.

But Jay Jacobs, the Nassau Democratic chairman who supports Gillibrand, said the new U.S. senator will eventually form positions on gun control and immigration that are more reflective of the state than her conservative congressional district.

"The realities of today are not necessarily the realities of a month from now," he said. "A month from now, no one can tell what people's views will be."

Gillibrand's voting record has earned her a 100 percent rating with the National Rifle Association.

Gillibrand said she grew up in a family of hunters, and that she had "always believed in protecting hunters' rights. ... It's a core value for our region and for our state."

King said Paterson owes New Yorkers a full explanation about why Gillibrand was selected over Caroline Kennedy and other candidates.

"No matter what party, we deserve to know what's going on," King told a group of Nassau GOP committeemen in Uniondale yesterday.

Paterson spokesman Errol Cockfield defended the governor's selection process.

"Any suggestion that political influence or impropriety somehow impacted this process is absolutely false," Cockfield said.

Asked at a news conference yesterday about Kennedy, Paterson said, "Caroline Kennedy called me on Wednesday ... to inform me that for personal reasons she had to withdraw. ... She had gotten no indication that she wouldn't be selected."

Daniel Edward Rosen and staff writer Dan Janison contributed to this story, which was supplemented with Associated Press reports.

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