Ten Questions with Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand. Balancing two careers as a politician and full-time mother, Gillibrand shares her thoughts, passions and little-known secrets with Saratoga.com.
1. What was it like growing up in the Capital Region?
I loved growing up in the Capital District. Most of my extended family still lives in the region, and I had the benefit of 4 grandparents, 7 sets of aunts and uncles and 20 cousins all living nearby while growing up.
The Capital Region, then, like now, is a wonderful place for raising a family – strong values, good schools, excellent quality of life, and a lot for kids to do from going to museums, to visiting the many parks, lakes and mountains, to playing lots of outdoor sports.
I attended grade school at great local girls' schools – the Academy of the Holy Names for grade school and Emma Willard for high school. I then went away to college at Dartmouth, but came home during summers for summer jobs and to see my family.
After I was married, my husband Jonathan and I wanted to raise our family in upstate New York – not only to be near our family, but I wanted our son, Theo, to have all the enriching experiences I had as a kid – fishing in the lakes of the Adirondacks, skiing in the Catskills, Adirondacks and near the Berkshires, skating on local ponds, hiking in the woods, planting vegetable gardens, picking raspberries in my grandmother's garden and making pies, getting ice cream in the summer evenings from Stewart's and Friendly's, and learning about our region's and country's history from our many historic sites and museums.
2. How do you balance your career and family life?
I balance my life in the same way most working families do – we figure it out each and every day. I have a very supportive husband and family as well, which is a constant blessing.
During the week when I have votes, Jonathan and I take Theo to school together and then one of us picks him up depending upon our schedules. I usually make dinner, get Theo ready for bed and read him a few books each evening. If I have late votes or meetings, Jonathan takes over very well!
On the weekends, we like to stay at home in Hudson, and if I have work commitments on a given day, my mother, my aunt or my brother and sister-in-law will help out – which of course Theo loves because he gets to see his cousins. We usually have a lot of family time on the weekends – visiting grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.
3. What are your favorite spots in Saratoga?
In the summer, it is of course very exciting to go to the track, and wonderful to see a concert or the ballet at SPAC (all rare, but greatly enjoyed). Anytime of the year, I enjoy window shopping, and I love having a coffee at Saratoga Coffee Traders on Broadway or tea and a treat at Mrs. London's. And, of course, I always enjoy spending time in my district office on Broadway to meet with constituents and work with my district staff.
4. What sparked your interest in politics? Who inspires you?
I became interested in public service as a young girl by watching my grandmother being active in her community through charitable work and political organizing. I was also inspired by my mother to become a lawyer and an advocate. Watching my mom raise us and practicing law, I admired her advocacy ability to help people with everyday legal issues – like buying a home, writing a will and adopting children.
As a young attorney, I used my training to help people in need by providing them free legal representation – women who were battered who needed protection, families in homes where lead paint was found, and church communities in need of pro-bono work. Because of my grandmother's passion and example, I was always interested in public service.
I became particularly interested in working on federal legislation when I had the honor of serving as Special Counsel to Andrew Cuomo, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. There, I was able to help draft legislation to invest public and private resources into low income areas to create economic development opportunities and to work on strengthening labor standards for workers building housing across the country. I learned during that opportunity that I could have an even greater impact and help many more people by turning my advocacy skills towards the federal legislative process.
5. What are the issues you are most passionate about?
- Fighting terrorism and ensuring national security, including better support for our troops and veterans
- Cutting taxes for middle class families, small businesses and seniors, including property taxes
- Economic growth in Upstate NY and a stronger national economy
- Investing in energy independence technologies and manufacturing
- A better Agricultural policy in America to ensure our small upstate farms can, not only survive, but prosper
- Creating opportunities for quality, affordable health care in our region and in the nation
- Advocating for greater awareness, better services, and increased research funding for autism
- Investments in universal rural broadband and other infrastructure, such as water and sewer, light rail and other public transportation
- Ensuring that every American child has the opportunity to achieve his or her God-given life's potential, including ensuring quality, affordable education from early childhood through college
6. What do you most want to accomplish in office?
I would like to work toward achieving all of the priorities above – although many of these goals will take years of hard work, determination and vision by many people.
Right now, I am working hard on the Farm Bill to protect upstate farms and on energy independence investments through my work Agricultural Committee; economic development opportunities through my work as co-Chair of the High Tech Caucus and through various middle class tax cut bills I am sponsoring; and national security and terrorism issues through the work of the Armed Services Committee.
7. What is your top priority for 2008?
Advocating for a better strategy in Iraq and a more comprehensive approach to fighting terrorism are the most pressing issues. I believe we will be safer and will combat terrorism more effectively by using a notice period for redeployment of our troops out of Iraq and away from policing Iraqi streets to pressure the Iraqi leadership into compromising and reaching political reconciliation. Political reconciliation will allow for the kind of cooperation among the Iraqi sectarian groups that will make expelling Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists possible, which will be one of the most effective steps in combating terrorism in the region.
We need significant investments in port security, border security, airline and infrastructure security and locking down loose nuclear materials around the world. We need to focus our military and antiterrorism missions to a greater degree in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We need to strengthen our military readiness and invest in all our Services, including the National Guard and Reserve Forces.
Domestically, I am very concerned about our economy and bringing tax cuts to our middle class families (see number 8 below). I also will continue to work to restore accountability and fiscal discipline to the federal budget process.
8. What is your response to the quote: "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer"?
Many people in our district feel exactly this way – I hear it at my town hall meetings when constituents rightly ask, why is the Fed bailing out huge investment banks and not helping my family and my community?
With high gas prices, rising healthcare costs, a housing crisis, escalating property taxes, and stagnant wages and job growth, it has become more and more difficult for our families to provide for their children. To address these grave concerns, this past year, I have introduced several bills in Congress targeted towards giving tax cuts to middle class families (doubling child care tax credit, making college tuition tax deductible, allowing property taxes to be deductible even if you don't itemize, and increased tax cuts for small businesses).
I think families in our area pay too much in taxes, and I would like to provide them some real relief.
- I have 2 bills for reducing the price of gas in the short term (reducing Federal gas tax and drawing down from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the next 6 months).
- I would also like to see Congress continue to make progress on increasing access to affordable and quality healthcare for all Americans – investing in healthcare IT, simplifying forms, and opening up a not-for-profit provider, something like Medicare, for anyone to buy into at 5% of their income would be a great start.
- Third, we need to balance the budget, spend only what we can pay for, and reduce the debt – paying hundreds of billions of dollars every year in interest payments alone to countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Mexico is bad fiscal policy and a waste of our tax payer dollars (which could be better used for middle class tax cuts or healthcare investments, for example).
In addition, we need to create more good-paying jobs locally. We should invest in local infrastructure – water, sewers, roads, bridges, rural broadband, light rail, public transportation, and healthcare IT to create jobs and promote smart growth. I have worked to increase tax credits, research and development grants and tax incentives to promote advancement in alternative energy and conservation technologies and products. These investments can help home-grown businesses in our region including hydropower, fuel cell technology, wind, geothermal and solar businesses, and invests in agricultural that can develop bio fuels, including cellulosic ethanol. We can help our local entrepreneurial manufacturing and research companies, as well as some of our larger employers at the forefront of these innovations.
I see a bright future for our region. I believe we are on the verge of renewable energy and conservation technologies becoming the next great world market, and I believe Upstate New York is well positioned to become a leader in this sector. We are also at the forefront of using partnerships between education and industry for a vibrant and powerful combination. With the education/research/industry hub systems being developed at SUNY Albany Nanotech and at RPI, and by promoting innovative approaches such as Tech Valley High, we are creating unlimited possibilities for innovation, entrepreneurialism and smart growth for our families and our future.
9. Do you have any advice for women in the Capital Region who are considering politics as a career path?
Follow your instincts and your passions. Get involved where you have the greatest desire for change. Be focused on your issues, and do not let opponents set the tone or agenda for discussion. Be yourself.
10. Finish this sentence, "Something you may not know about me is..."
"My mother is a great hunter – she usually shoots our Thanksgiving turkey."