First of all, yesterday’s health bill victory in the Senate goes to the 9/11 responders. They earned this with their blood, their sacrificed health, and their courage in those days after the attack.
But leadership in Washington also matters.
This is the first time that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — who just a couple of years ago represented the 20th House district which includes Lake Placid and Saranac Lake — can lay claim a major victory in Washington.
The 9/11 health bill had been stymied by Republican opposition.
But in recent days, Sen Gillibrand carried a simple clear message, laying out a moral argument for passage of the bill and promising a “Christmas miracle” in appearances on Fox News, in press conferences, and on the Senate floor.
She was also willing to compromise, offering the GOP an opportunity to retreat with dignity.
Other lawmakers, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, played huge roles here, co-equal to Gillibrand’s.
But Sen. Schumer ha been a national figure for years. He was one of the architects of the big Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008.
For Sen. Gillibrand, this was a sort of coming-out. It was likely the first moment that she registered in the minds of many New Yorkers and the vast majority of Americans.
She had already proved that she could champion a liberal cause, pushing hard over the last year for gay rights. But this week, she championed a centrist cause that transcended partisanship.
She also transcended her sometimes wonky, policy-heavy style, speaking plainly, simply and convincingly on a national stage.
It would be easy, given the magnitude of this victory, to forget the doubts about Sen. Gillibrand when Gov. David Paterson appointed her to fill Hillary Rodham Clinton’s term.
Downstate and New York City Democrats thought she was too conservative, a push-over from Upstate. They scolded her for her political views and promised primary challenges.
Sen. Gillibrand carefully shored up her base, won re-election handily in November, and a month later helped to muster overwhelming bipartisan support (the bill was approved by the Senate on a unanimous voice vote) for an important piece of legislation.
Given the speed of Sen. Gillibrand’s political evolution, it will be interesting in the months and years ahead to see where her path leads.