It was almost five years ago that then-Gov. David Paterson was wrestling with a tough decision – filling the vacancy in the U.S. Senate created by Hillary Clinton, who was appointed Secretary of State by President Obama.
After making a very public flirtation with picking Caroline Kennedy, Paterson surprised many by selecting upstate Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, who had only been in Congress for a little more than two years. The appointment was met with mixed reviews at best, and Gillibrand did little to impress at her appointment press conference, when she channeled Tracy Flick and endlessly thanked virtually every Democratic elected official in the state.
Fast forward to this weekend, when Gillibrand scored a media trifecta, getting glowing – and lengthy profiles – in the New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post. The combined message of the articles is that Gillibrand is the full political package, making allies – if not friends – on both sides of the aisle while working hard at being the mother of two young sons. Her fight to crack down on sexual assault in the military has received national attention – even as she's rankled some in her own party while pushing the issue.
Gillibrand's rise is all the more remarkable because she shares the spotlight with Chuck Schumer, who balances an uncanny ability to master the internal game of Washington politics with his near-weekly Sunday press conferences where no issue is seemingly too small to be snarled at by a lion of the Senate.
But Gillibrand may be the "honey badger" of the Senate – as one of her Republican colleagues calls her in the New Yorker profile, referring to "a relentless and fearless creature that pursues its prey at all costs." Gillibrand may not always be on a charm offensive but she tenaciously works her way through on issues until she gets what she wants.
While it's far too early to be talking about a presidential run (especially when Gillibrand's mentor, Hillary Clinton, is all but announcing her candidacy for 2016), her surprising breakfast visit last year with the Iowa delegation at the Democratic National Convention makes sense in the light of her work since then. It's easy to imagine Gillibrand sharing a cup of coffee and a piece of apple pie with voters at a diner in snowy New Hampshire. To be popular, have lots of campaign cash, and the subject of good press – it's not a bad way today to celebrate your 47th birthday as New York's junior senator.