Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Keynotes 2012 Meeting of the President's Council on Cornell Women
Addressing a packed Statler Auditorum this evening, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand shared her personal story and high hopes for the future of women's engagement in politics with the President's Council on the Cornell Women and community at large Friday evening.
After serving in the US House of Representatives for New York's 20th Congressional District from 2006 to 2009, Gillibrand filled Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate seat before winning a special election to the seat in 2010. Since that time, she has served on multiple committees and worked closely with the 9/11 First Responders bill and the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
On Friday night, she spoke about her personal story in the world of politics and shared her vision of a political world where women were just as active and headstrong as men. Commenting on recent debates in Washington, she remarked "if women made up 51% of Congress, we wouldn't be debating contraception right now." Today, women only make up 17% of Congress, while women serve as governors in 6 out of 50 states.
Seeking to inspire the over 500 members of the audience in attendance, Gillibrand noted that her engagement in politics began early, thanks to activitism on the part of her grandmother and a constant yearning, even as a lawyer in a large New York City firm, to be involved in public service. Following the 2002 elections in which the GOP took control of the Senate, her appointed position moved on to a different party, leading Gillibrand to first consider a run for public office.
Despite running in a district in which Republicans outnumbered Democrats 2 to 1, Gillibrand ran a challenging upset campaign in 2006 to ultimate defeat four-term incumbent representative John E. Sweeney. She then won re-election in 2008 before ultimately taking her Senate seat. Throughout the process, she credited her then-fiancee (now husband) Jonathan for his support and lamented the willingness for other women to step up to the challenge of politics.
"If you ask three men if they could be in Congress, they'd all say yes. With three women, it's different. They're much more unsure," Gillibrand commented.
The Senator briefly responded to audience questions during a structured Q&A following her address, blasting today's political officials for even debating contraceptive freedom for women, ambivalently promising a quest for more information in recent allegations of religious discrimation in NYPD surveillance, and offering her own assistance to any woman in the audience seeking to run for office.
The annual meeting of the President's Council of Cornell Women brings together accomplished alumnae who have not been active in alumni organizations to find ways to expand the role of women in Cornell's decision-making, advise the president on issues important to Cornell women, and offer guidance and role models for Cornell women.