Signs pointing to U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand as backers of the Greenport Democrat gather in Albany

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Date: Friday, January 23, 2009

Here's what we know for sure: Gov. David Paterson will finally reveal his choice to replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate at noon today.

While there's nothing official about who will be standing next to him at the Capitol, strong signs are pointing in the direction of U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-Greenport.

Gillibrand returned to the Capital Region late Thursday night, but said she did not know if Paterson will pick her for the Senate seat despite speaking with the governor earlier in the day.

"It's the governor's decision and I don't think he's made a decision," Gillibrand said as she arrived at Albany International Airport. The second-term congresswoman said all the candidates for the job will appear today with Paterson when the announcement is made.

She praised Clinton's job and said "it's going to be some big shoes to fill for anyone that's being considered."

A highly placed Democratic source said members of New York's congressional delegation were briefed Thursday afternoon that Gillibrand will be named to the seat.

Another highly placed source said at least one rejected Senate candidate received a call from Paterson, who informed him Gillibrand was the choice.

The guest list for today's announcement includes a number of people close to the second-term congresswoman: Congressman Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Susan Savage, chairwoman of the Schenectady County Legislature, are expected to be present. Leaders from across Gillibrand's congressional district said they received invitations from the governor's office to be on hand as well.

Tom Wade, the Democratic chairman in Rensselaer County, said the governor's people did not tell him who the governor has chosen, "but I can read between the lines."

Warren County Chairman Bill Montfort was also invited through a series of phone calls from the governor's office setting and resetting the date of Paterson's announcement. It was an unusual invitation, and it made Montfort wonder if the governor was bringing people together from Gillibrand's district.

Saratoga Chairman Larry Bulman was not so sure. Bulman sent an e-mail to the Democratic Committee calling for a meeting next week to discuss Paterson's Senate choice and noted "the need to prepare ourselves for the potential of a special election in 60 days for the 20th Congressional District seat."

But Bulman said other than the meeting at noon today, everything else was speculation.

Whatever the case, all three men lavished praise on Gillibrand.

"If she does for the state what she's done for congressional district, the state will be in good shape," Montfort said.

"She's a star. She will build her brand across the state just as quickly as she did in the district," Bulman said.

The selection ends a tumultuous two-month process that turn strange Wednesday evening with the news that Caroline Kennedy, long considered Paterson's top choice, was dropping out for personal reasons.

Other possibilities include Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Steve Israel, as well as Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and a handful of others.

The selection of Gillibrand would help Paterson's unstated goal of preparing for his 2010 gubernatorial run by putting an upstate woman on the ballot with him. Gillibrand is also a proven fundraiser who would head into two back-to-back election cycles -- in a 2010 special election and the regular Senate contest in 2012 -- with a well-stocked war chest.

Three years ago, Gillibrand was an unknown corporate lawyer seen as little more than a mosquito that well-connected Rep. John Sweeney would wave away.

Since defeating Sweeney and taking a long-held GOP seat, Gillibrand soundly defeated challenger Republican Alexander "Sandy" Treadwell, who put more than $6 million into the race. Gillibrand's lopsided win, with more than 62 percent of the vote, combined with her fundraising prowess, caught the attention of the Democratic party.

Gillibrand raised more than $4.5 million during the last election cycle.

One possible objection to Gillibrand's selection was the potential difficulty of keeping her House seat in Democratic hands if she resigned for the Senate. But with New York likely to lose one seat following the 2010 census, it's likely that Democratic control of the state Senate and Assembly would allow the party to surgically carve up the district to keep incumbents safe.

Leigh Hornbeck can be reached at 454-5352 or by e-mail at Ryan Hutchins, Irene Jay Liu and James M. Odato contributed to this story.


For more on the possible shape of things to come for the 20th Congressional District, visit Capitol Confidential at



A3 Kennedy's exit proves to be less than gracious.