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In N.Y., race for Senate seat is a Democratic identity crisis

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By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Let me introduce myself. I am Harold Gillibrand or maybe I'm Kirsten Ford, a blending of the Democrats who want to be the next elected senator from New York. I am running to free the party from the clutches of Harry Reid, or maybe it's Chuck Schumer, and to return fiscal sanity to the state that was once home to Alexander Hamilton, our first secretary of the Treasury who, like so many other New Yorkers, came to grief across the river in New Jersey. Here are my positions.

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I was pro-life when I was a congressman from Tennessee, but I am now pro-choice. This is not because I moved from Tennessee to New York, but because the moral, ethical and practical issues have changed in such fundamental ways in the past couple of weeks that it takes someone who thinks outside the box to fully understand them. When I said I was pro-life, I was referring to the old Time Inc. picture magazine. Some people are pro-People and some people are pro-Sports Illustrated and I am pro-Life. I think the American people are with me on this.

On second thought, I have always been pro-choice. I have been consistent on this. It is my position on gun control that is evolving. When I was a member of Congress from a rural New York district, I got a huge stamp of approval from the National Rifle Association for opposing even moderate or, as some people say, sane gun legislation. Since then I have come to understand that guns are sometimes used in New York City in the commission of crimes, and since I am anti-crime, I am modifying my position on guns. I think the American people are with me on this.

It's true that I opposed gay marriage. But I did so only in the context of Tennessee and not New York. In the first place, like Iran, Tennessee has no homosexuals. New York has lots of them, including the speaker of the City Council and Isaac Mizrahi, whoever he is. Still, I always favored civil unions because I did not think that a civil union between gays threatened the sanctity of contract law, which is the bedrock of our Judeo-Christian-Muslim-Buddhist-Santeria faith. I used to think the American people were with me on this, and now I know I am with them. This is what democracy is all about.

I was the only Democratic member of Congress from New York to vote to fund the war in Iraq. In retrospect, I have modified my position, changing it ever so slightly so that "approved" becomes "disapproved," which is just a difference of three letters, only one of them an all-important vowel. In Tennessee, I voted for the war, taking the position favored by most Tennesseans when I could have done the easy thing and not voted at all. This is what Barack Obama did on occasion in the Illinois Senate, and it made him president. I, however, would rather be wrong than be president.

I'm a Yankees fan. The Mets, too. Love the Knicks, the Rangers, the Giants and the Jets. Pastrami goes on rye, hold the mayo. The Bronx is up and the Battery's down. If you can make it here.

Yes, I favored raids on illegal immigrants when I was a member of the House, in both Tennessee and upstate New York. But I've changed my mind. These are good people who have come here to work. Also, their relatives vote.

I am 43, but I used to be younger. I am 39, but promise to get older. I am woman (hear me roar) and I am man. That's just the way things turned out. I am black. I am white. If you want me to be the other way around, I'll gladly appoint a study commission. I am my own person. No one controls me. I vote my conscience. Also my district. Luckily, my conscience tells me to vote my district.

I know what you're thinking: I have no mind of my own. I change with the wind. But how about you? You always tell the boss when he's an idiot? You always tell the customer he's wrong? You always tell your spouse the truth and always speak up in staff meetings even if you know what you're going to say is unpopular? I thought not. Vote for one of us, either Harold Gillibrand or Kirsten Ford. We're the same person. In fact, we're you.

cohenr@washpost.com


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