Hillary Clinton's Senate Replacement Draws Fire from Liberals

New York Governor Patterson choice, Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, upsets key Democratic groups.

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By KENNETH LOVETT
Daily News Albany Bureau Chief

ALBANY - Opposition to Gov. Paterson's selection of Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand as New York's new junior senator has been swift, furious and widespread.

Gun control and immigration advocates - and even fellow Democrats - offered a howl of protest Friday, hours before Paterson formally introduced Gillibrand.

Chung-Wa Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, criticized Gillibrand's views on immigration reform.

She accused Gillibrand of using rhetoric pitting undocumented workers against citizen workers and doing little to support immigration reform that offers a road to citizenship.

Noting as a congresswoman Gillibrand represented a heavily Republican and conservative district, Hong said "she needs to show she can switch from representing a single district to representing a pro-immigration state."

She also expressed disappointment at Paterson not only for his choice but his selection process.

Liberal Democrats and progressive groups lobbied late into the night to get Paterson to change his mind.

In the end, after Caroline Kennedy dropped out on Wednesday, it came down to Gillibrand, an upstate woman, and city teachers union president Randi Weingarten.

While other candidates throughout the night were told they were no longer in consideration, Weingarten didn't receive her call from the governor until shortly before 2 a.m., sources said.

Paterson then called Gillibrand, who accepted the position.

Already, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Long Island) and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer are considering a 2010 primary against Gillibrand, source close to each said.

Gun control groups also were outraged, citing Gillibrand's support by the NRA and her opposition to restricting the second amendment right to bear arms.

"When I heard Gillibrand was his pick, I thought it was a joke," said Gloria Cruz, Bronx chapter president of the Million Mom March to Prevent Gun Violence. "This is an insult to the families of gun violence victims across the state. Shame on Gov. Paterson.

Not everyone was upset.

Alan Van Capelle, head of the Empire State Pride Agenda, the state's largest gay rights group, said Gillibrand expressed support for gay marriage and said she would support full repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act as well as the Don't Ask Don't Tell military policy.

"After talking to Kirsten Gillibrand, I am very happy to say that New York is poised to have its first U.S. Senator who supports marriage equality for same-sex couples," Van Capelle said.

Abortion rights groups also hailed her selection.

"Like her predecessor Hillary Clinton, Rep. Gillibrand has shown herself to be an ally and advocate for New York and for women across the country, co-sponsoring legislation to ensure access to and funding for contraception," said NARAL Pro-Choice New York president Kelli Conlin.

"We know that as senator she will represent our interests with integrity and passion."