Friday, January 23, 2009

The Gillibrand announcement

If you like watching sausage being made, you loved the way Gov. Paterson replaced Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate.

A process that took far too long and lent itself to too much speculation - Paterson said he was trying to be deliberate and transparent - culminated in an odd announcement this afternoon in Albany.

The event was scheduled for noon and the podium filled with notables from the state and federal levels (I thought Congressman Hinchey was conspicuously absent for a neighboring colleague's whoopdedo), who stood around uncomfortably under the TV lights for nearly 20 minutes awaiting the governor and Senate-designate Kirsten Gillibrand. The delay had the big shots squirming and cable commentators vamping in critical terms about the apparent disorganization.

Gov. Paterson finally appeared with Gillibrand two steps behind, at which point we heard one of his less impressive speeches, a rambling several minutes worth of rhetoric finally leading up to the official announcement.

Then it was Gillibrand's turn. Reading from a prepared speech, she went on for so long she missed President Obama's first attempt at a congratulatory phone call. At one point - I can't remember if it was before or after Gillibrand named all her relatives - Paterson whispered that Obama was on the line, forcing her to shuffle pages and finally stop talking.

That brought Sen. Schumer to the plate, followed by Congresswoman Nita Lowey of Westchester County. While Schumer spoke, he was interrupted to get Gillibrand on the phone with the White House. Undaunted, Schumer continued speaking, while cameras panned away from him to Paterson and Gillibrand, who were in the wings speaking to the president.

Finally, it was time for questions and answers. This was, after all, supposed to be a press conference, not a campaign rally.

But there wasn't much time, particularly when Gillibrand provided an overly long explanation for her "No" vote on the bank bailout plan.

That reminded me of the then congressional candidate's one and only visit to the Freeman. We liked Gillibrand and supported her candidacy against then Congressman John Sweeney. But could she talk!

Having not been in her company since then - she agreed to visit us again in October when she was running against Sandy Treadwell, but the challenger blew us off, so our reporter interviewed Gillibrand by telephone - I'd have thought she had learned to be more concise. Apparently not.

So, between the length of Paterson's search, the Caroline Kennedy debacle (her own poor showing and the mystery surrounding her late withdrawal) and one of the oddest press conferences I've witnessed, this was indeed a memorable episode in state history.

Now we have to look forward to Gillibrand running for the office next year (probably first facing a by no means slam-dunk primary). The survivor of the 2010 general election gets to do it all over again in 2012.

I'm already worn out just thinking about it.
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