Posted on February 16, 2009
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/15/nyregion/15kirsten.html?ref=asiaIt is customary for politicians eager to connect with ethnic voters to butcher a few words in Spanish, Chinese or other foreign tongues. But Ms. Gillibrand is no ordinary politician when it comes to linguistic and cultural comfort: as an Asian studies major at Dartmouth, she studied for six months in China and Taiwan, becoming proficient enough to absorb stories in Chinese newspapers, and later spent four months in Hong Kong as a corporate lawyer.
Now a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ms. Gillibrand has come a long way from her days in China and Taiwan as Lu Tian Na, an exuberant adventurer who sucked down toad venom to counteract poisonous crabs from Beidaihe beach (about 180 miles east of Beijing), and who rode helmetless on a motorcycle in polluted Taipei. But those experiences deepened her appreciation for different cultures, Ms. Gillibrand said in an interview, and helped to shape her views on relations between the United States and China.
She said that the United States should be a “candle for the world,” and that “so much of our foreign policy and national security depends on China.”
She also suggested that she would be pragmatic in dealing with China’s human rights record. She recalled trekking in Tibet, and noticing a 5-year-old boy who had little choice, because of his family’s economic predicament, but to work alongside his father, carting stones in a wheelbarrow.
“When we talk about child labor laws, I have a recognition of how far other places have to go,” she said.
Since Gov. David A. Paterson tapped her to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton, who stepped down to become secretary of state, Ms. Gillibrand has introduced herself to people beyond her upstate district, including Latino and Asian groups.
Those constituencies could be crucial in a primary or general election next year. The number of registered Chinese-American voters in New York City jumped to 112,000 in 2007, or 3 percent of the city’s 3.7 million voters. That is a 36 percent increase since 2001, and one of the biggest surges among ethnic voters, according to John H. Mollenkopf, director of the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York Graduate Center.
It also does not hurt that Ms. Gillibrand is apparently the only member of Congress with some proficiency in Mandarin, other than Representative David Wu, an Oregon Democrat who was born in Taiwan.
Due to Gillibrand’s appointment into the US Senate seat in New York, there will be a special election to fill her vacant seat in New York Congressional District 20 in the upcoming 2009 Elections.
And as a landmark case, in the 2010 Elections, both US Senate seats for New York will be up for election simultaneously due to the fact that Senator Gillibrand’s appointment was temporary for one year and and special election will be held to publicly elect someone into that seat, and the fact that as a Class III US Senator, Senator Schumer’s seat will be up for election in 2010.