So I go away for a few days, and New York State politics decides to go through a version of primal scream therapy. I don’t know. Where to begin? I was all ready to post on our new senator Caroline Kennedy, and while I had initially opposed her nomination, primarily because I wanted an upstater, I had come to like her, especially her press conference inarticulately studded with uhms and “you knows.” Just the way I would talk if were nervous, not used to speaking before a large media circus. And she would have made a fine senator, I think. Instead, we get the upstater I wanted, in the form of Kirsten Gillibrand, whom I knew very little about, the first significant New York Kirsten, I think, since the redoubtable Kirsten Flagstad, the greatest opera singer of the 20th century, donned her horned helmet on the stage of the Old Met.
But I digress. Much of the controversy around Ms. Gillibrand concerns her perfect NRA voting record, which is sort of a ridiculous thing for a Democratic congressperson from New York State to have. But she is from the most rural district in the state, which tends to vote very conservatively, and if you have to vote against cities being able to adequately register handguns to placate some hunters who somehow think urban gun regulations will prey their shotguns from their stubby fingers, I guess that’s what you have to do to get elected. All I can say is that if she continues to have a perfect NRA voting record as senator, she’s going to be drilled full of political buckshot ere long.
And if Caroline Kennedy had the artless grace of the amateur, Gillibrand has the artful gracelessness of the political professional, of whom, the best that could be said about her is that she is a great fundraiser, and how very sad that this is the standard whereby we now judge our politicians. And when Gillibrand said that “we in upstate like to shoot our turkeys for Thanksgiving” I thought—“hey, Kirsten, its stupid, ignorant city folks who think upstate is populated by hicks and taxidermists, please do not give credence to this stereotype. “ Upstate, Kirsten, is not a place at all, and all it has it common is that it is not NYC or its environs. Those of us in Rochester have no more connection to you than do the folks on the South Fork of the Island. And most of us in Rochester and its suburbs, purchase our Thanksgiving turkeys in Wegmans, selecting from a mound of nicely wrapped Butterballs. Upstate, which does include true rural areas like the central Adirondacks, as well as cities, suburbs, slums, exurbs, and every other type of conurbation, is more diverse in its populations than NYC itself. Don’t forget this, Kirsten.
But enough Gillibrand bashing. I am sure she will make a good senator, in the hard charging Chuck Schumer mold, who evidently wanted an upstate alpha female to balance his downstate alpha male. The person who came out looking pretty poorly was David Paterson. Even Rod Blagoevich managed to pick a US senator with less controversy (not counting the controversy over his unorthodox method of selection.) Paterson definitely looked maladroit, and managed to stir up more bad feelings than Joe Torre’s new book about his Yankee years, but he was given an impossible job, the judgment of Paris, awarding the golden apple to Helen of Troy, or for that matter to Kirsten of Troy, Glens Falls, and Lake Placid. I think that this is the sort of thing that politicians and those who follow politics closely care much about, but it doesn’t have much impact on the voters at large, and there are enough big issues ahead that Paterson will be able to change the topic fairly easily. But getting the Kennedys, the Cuomos, and the Clintons united in their pissitude toward you is no inconsiderable task.
And for the topping of the weekend’s news, amid all of this noise, Joe Bruno was indicted on Friday for taking at least $3 million in bribes from numerous contractors. This was hinted at last year, and is one possible reason for his surprising decision to step down as senate majority leader last summer. This is the final proof of the corruption of the state Republicans, whose venal hold on the state senate, the place where, for the past four decades, all good bills go to die, is finally at an end. I am sure Bruno claim he did nothing wrong, and this was just business as usual. Probably this was true, and more’s the pity.
It might be my bias, but I long felt that the Democrats were marginally less corrupt than the Republicans, and now they have the chance to prove it. But Joe Bruno, Joe Bruno of Troy (that is actually where he is from), will not be soon forgotten, from the Joe Bruno Amtrak Station (which is lovely), to the Joe Bruno baseball stadium (which is also very nice), to the Joe Bruno era of state politics, to which his indictment is a fitting coda. Next time I go away for a weekend, New York politicians, try not to be quite so eventful.