By Aaron Blake - 01/28/09 05:15 PM EST
New York lawmakers are so far unwilling to throw their support behind newly crowned Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), and several say they could support a potential primary challenge from Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D).
Several of the state's 26 House Democrats made it clear this week that Gillibrand has something to prove to them — specifically on whether she’s going to stick to conservative positions on issues like guns, illegal immigration and economic issues — or take a more Democratic-held position.
When asked what the message from his district was after the appointment last week, Rep. Jerrold Nadler said simply: “A lot of people are upset.”
Nadler said they see Gillibrand as too conservative for statewide office, noting her support for a balanced budget amendment and her stance on illegal immigration.
The liberal darling said he didn’t know whether he would support her in the general election.
When asked if he could support McCarthy instead, Nadler said: “That’s a long time from now.”
Another New York City congressman, Edolphus Towns, was more direct, saying that he was “open to” backing McCarthy.
He said his constituents were disappointed with Gillibrand’s selection, but that he hopes to sit down with her soon to talk over their differences.
Rep. Eliot Engel also said he was “open to supporting” McCarthy.
“I’m open to everything,” he said, noting that he would give Gillibrand the benefit of the doubt, for now.
Engel said the resistance to support Gillibrand has a lot to do with how new she is on the political scene. She started her second term in the House this month before her appointment to the Senate.
One lawmaker said that, for some, the hesitance has a lot to do with how she passed over more senior members who were seeking the appointment, including Democratic Reps. Steve Israel and Brian Higgins.
Rep. Tim Bishop, who represents a moderate Suffolk County district, was also withholding judgment, though he said he’d like to see the party come together.
He said, in particular, her positions on guns and illegal immigration have been at odds with his district. He said repeatedly that he hoped her positions would “evolve.”
“There are some policy positions on which we agree and some she has that I hope will change to reflect” her new constituency, he said.
Polls conducted after Gillibrand’s appointment have shown that Republicans are happier with her selection than Democrats — a fact that could spell primary trouble in 2010.
Some members were a little kinder, but still suggested Gillibrand needs to reevaluate her ideology.
Rep. Gregory Meeks has said that he would support whomever Gov. David Paterson (D) chose for the vacancy, and he repeated that Tuesday.
But even Meeks, who had much praise for Gillibrand after bringing her to his district last week, said his support is prefaced on the understanding that she will change her votes on certain things.
“She’s got to be right on the issues,” he said, acknowledging that he is closer to McCarthy’s positions.
Meeks was one of relatively few members of the New York delegation to attend last week’s announcement in Albany, N.Y.
At the press conference, Gillibrand alluded to the difference between representing the conservative-leaning 20th district and the entire state, which has trended very blue in recent years.
She laid the groundwork for any adjustments she might need to make in her new job.
“As I represented the needs and priorities of the 20th congressional district of New York, I will represent the many diverse views and voices of the entire state as your senator,” she said.
Regardless of how much she adjusts, though, supporting Gillibrand is an easier call for some in the delegation.
Freshman Rep. Mike McMahon said he saw no reason why he wouldn’t back her.
Coming from a conservative-leaning and long-Republican Staten Island district, McMahon said the feedback he received was very positive.
He said his constituents feel an “affinity” with Gillibrand because of her conservative positions, and also praised Gillibrand for her “perseverance and pluck.”