Kirsten Gillibrand:
Still Stuck on the 2020 Sidelines
Like a clock ticking backwards, Kirsten Gillibrand’s poll numbers went from one percent to zero this week, the latest indignity for a presidential candidate whose campaign has been curiously moribund this season.

It was less than four months ago that New York’s junior senator drew cheers when she declared her presidential intentions on the Stephen Colbert show. But the path has been downward since then. “By the numbers, Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign for president is floundering,” wrote Emily Ngo of Newsday . “No one from New York’s 21-member congressional delegation is backing her campaign for president,” reported Shane Goldmacher of The Times . Her fundraising haul was “ a disappointing sum that ranked her last among the six senators currently running for president,” Goldmacher and Thomas Kaplan reported a month later.

The media on Gillibrand has been whipsawing for as long as we can remember. After a notoriously brutal hazing greeted her appointment to Hillary Clinton’s senate seat in 2009, she hunkered down, gradually emerging in the years that followed as a champion of sexual assault legislation. “It is now, in this explosive moment, that her transformation has come into high relief,” Ginia Bellafante opined in 2017. “Young progressive women in New York who have suddenly been making activism as much a part of their daily habits as chia seed pudding have become infatuated with Ms. Gillibrand.”

The world beyond Capital Hill took notice. “She radiates concern for regular people, and in her interactions there is an actual, unperformed engagement that people pick up on everywhere” Vogue raved in 2017, under an Annie Leibovitz portrait of the senator. “She is the very soul of approachability.”

So what happened? Why was Kirsten Gillibrand’s CNN Town Hall a ratings bust ? Why is she making beer pong videos to attract donations?

It is still early in this race, with innumerable opportunities ahead for the senator to make an impression upon Democratic voters. Still, her campaign penned a bitter memo recently, attributing her fundraising problems to her call in 2017 for Al Franken’s resignation, criticizing “certain establishment donors” and others who “continue to punish Kirsten for standing up for her values and for women.” Those who felt she pandered to voters and sacrificed a colleague in the process saw things differently.

Gillibrand’s focus on women’s issues has failed to pay dividends thus far. She hasn’t exactly carved out a unique messaging lane for herself; there are seven women running or likely to run in the primary.

Still, it’s worth noting that none of them are leading in this race. The vast majority of Democratic voters are favoring two old white guys. The upstart candidates who have captured the media’s imagination are two young white guys. It may be an enlightened time for women in politics, but Gillibrand and other female candidates are facing some old dynamics. No number of beer pong videos can make them go away.
America Meets Tish James
Not long ago, Letitia James, as the city’s public advocate, was primarily known to civic-minded denizens of the city’s five boroughs. When she succeeded State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who resigned in a shocking sexual assault scandal last year, her name recognition spread statewide. But this may be remembered as the week the nation discovered Tish James.

“Trump gets powerful new rival in Letitia James,” The Hill announced yesterday.

While the Battle of Winterfell was raging on HBO, a different version of Game of Thrones was playing out at the National Rifle Association’s convention last weekend. Ollie North, of Iran-Contra fame, made a play for CEO Wayne LaPierre’s job. All hell broke loose over accusations that North employed a blackmail threat.

The NRA is chartered in New York, giving James direct jurisdiction over the gun rights group. And she plunged happily into the fray, first threatening to investigate the group’s tax-exempt status, and then doing so not long afterwards.

On the evening of April 27 th , Tim Mak of NPR tweeted an announcement from James’ spokesperson. "The Office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James has launched an investigation related to the National Rifle Association. As part of this investigation, the Attorney General has issued subpoenas."

The tweet generated 13,000 likes.

James' move was perfectly aligned to the group’s moment of maximum weakness, as it was buffeted by leadership turmoil and an increasingly muscular opposition. The news spread beyond The Times to the rest of the mainstream media.

And then James got really lucky. “The NRA is under siege by Cuomo and the New York State A.G., who are illegally using the State’s legal apparatus to take down and destroy this very important organization,” tweeted the president.

The New York A.G.’s office isn’t a new thorn in Trump’s side (it is investigating a host of his business dealings), but this fight put James on the map. The new attorney general has the power to wound both the NRA and its biggest cheerleader, and she has made it clear that she’s unafraid to do so.

At heart, James is more activist than attorney, although she is both. The Times noted that last year that she told Ebony magazine that the NRA was “a terrorist organization.”

National reporters were overjoyed to grant her political celebrityhood. “In just four months, James has emerged as one of the most aggressive and ambitious litigators in the country,” The Hill ’s Reid Wilson wrote. “She’s filed suit against or launched investigations into some of the most dominant special interests in the country, from the opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma and its owners the Sackler family to the National Rifle Association and Facebook.

“And she has made clear, from the campaign trail to the courtroom, that she is coming for Trump next.”
“No one is to know about this, not even the other teams.” - Sgt. Jerry Ioveno of the Mayor’s Executive Protection Unit, texting fellow officers after a car crashed into de Blasio’s SUV. (The Daily News obtained the texts).

“Everything about how an accident is handled is the responsibility of the NYPD. I don’t know enough about their protocols. That’s something to ask them.” -   De Blasio on Wednesday.
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