Kirsten Gillibrand in Off the Sidelines

On Principles & Values: Weekly "Sunlight Report" detailing how she spends her time

When I accepted President Barrack Obama's offer to serve as secretary of state, I wanted someone strong and caring to fill my seat in the Senate.

Kirsten was a great choice. As a congresswoman, she was a champion for families in her upstate New York district and a creative problem solver willing to reach across the aisle to get the job done for her constituents. And she was a leader on transparency, putting out a weekly "Sunlight Report" detailing exactly how she spent her time. The New York Times called it "a quiet touch of revolution." She was just what the Senate needed. A few days before she was sworn in, Kirsten and I sat down for lunch with Governor David Paterson and Senator Chuck Schumer. She told us, "I'm going to hit the ground running." And boy, did she. Practically overnight, Kirsten went from a junior congresswoman to a prominent and powerful senator.

Source: Hillary Clinton intro to "Off the Sidelines," p.viii-ix Sep 9, 2014

On Families & Children: We need a Rosie the Riveter for our generation

Girls' voices matter. Women's voices matter. From Congress to board meetings to PTAs, our country needs more women to share their thoughts and take a place at the decision-making table.

This is not a new idea. During World War II, Rosie the Riveter called on women to enter the workforce and fill the jobs vacated by enlisted men. The Rosie the Riveter advertising campaign had a simple slogan: We can do it! And she told women two things: One, we need you, and two, you can make the difference. My great grandmother Mimi and my grandmother's sister, my great-aunt Betty, both saw Rosie on posters, pulled off their aprons, and headed to work at an arsenal, assembling ammunition for large weapons.

We need a Rosie the Riveter for this generation--not to draw women into professional life, because they are already there, but to elevate women's voices in the public sphere and bring women more fully into making the decisions that shape our country.

Source: Off the Sidelines, by Kirsten Gillibrand, p. xiv-xv Sep 9, 2014

On Principles & Values: Weight has always been an issue for me

Weight has always been an issue for me. I don't like being judged on my looks and, frankly, I'd like to spend less time thinking about my appearance, but there it is. I suspect the same is true for nearly every woman in America.

When I was a girl, I was super-athletic, and didn't spend a minute worrying about what I ate. The end of my dieting innocence came right before my high school graduation, when I went on a 5-day liquid fast, to look as thin as possible for our graduation pictures.

I lost ten pounds in those five days, which I felt very virtuous about, until I gained it all back the following week.

[By 2009, after having two children], I was fifty pounds heavier than I was before I had children. That was enough.

[By 2012], I said yes to a Daily News for an interview request about my diet and exercise. Eating right and maintaining a healthy weight are nearly universal struggles for Americans. I wanted to connect with people; why not tell my story?

Source: Off the Sidelines, by Kirsten Gillibrand, p. 122-33 Sep 9, 2014

On Families & Children: Attends weekly women's Bible study class

Men I dated undermined my sense of self-worth, convincing me that I wasn't smart, attractive, or interesting enough. I needed to find a way out.

Breaking my bad relationship patterns became a priority, and somewhat to my surprise, faith helped me a great deal. I started attending a weekly women's Bible study class, and quickly grew to adore it. Once I started thinking more about faith, I began to see how lost I'd been. I needed to find a partner who was loving and kind. A man who would make me happy and would also allow me to thrive. Jonathan came along at the right moment. He's handsome, charming, and sharp-minded, and he also exudes a thoughtful and generous kindness--the whole package.

That first date was a fantastic brunch, then a walk, the evening "singles" mass at church.

It's amazing how many strong, self-empowered women get caught up in bad relationships. I know all you know this, but believe me: You really do want to go for the nice guy, not the hot, flashy, or cool one.

Source: Off the Sidelines, by Kirsten Gillibrand, p. 27 Sep 9, 2014

On Foreign Policy: 1995: Inspired by women's rights as human rights

On September 5, 1995, at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. Hillary said her line about women's rights being human rights, a line I've repeated almost once a week for the past ten years. Her words were so simple, brave, and powerful, and when I heard them, something woke up in me. I cared about China. I'd majored in Asian studies, and spent a semester there in college, devastated by the poverty and pollution but inspired by the culture and the strength of its people. I even spoke passable Mandarin. With her words, Hillary put me back in touch with my childhood dream. I needed to alter the course of my life and get involved in politics. That was who I was and who I had always wanted to be. It was time to embrace what mattered to me most and overcome my fear that others would disapprove of my ambition or view me as presumptuous or entitled.
Source: Off the Sidelines, by Kirsten Gillibrand, p. 28 Sep 9, 2014

On Welfare & Poverty: Special Counsel for HUD under President Clinton

I went to hear Andrew Cuomo, who was then Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, speak at a Women's Leadership Forum event. He gave a fired-up talk about public service, why it mattered, and how we should all be working to make the world better. To which I responded: "Great." I wanted the life he was pitching, but no one was giving me a chance.

So after the talk I walked up to Andrew, introduced myself, and said, "Mr. Secretary, I loved your speech. I agreed with everything you said. But I have to tell you, it's not so easy. I've been trying to break into a career in public service for a couple of years now, and I cannot get my foot in the door.

Andrew said, "Well if you're really serious about it, I'll have my chief of staff set up an interview for next week." I flew to Washington. Andrew interviewed me.

"I'll make you special counsel. I'll pay you the highest salary I can under the federal rules, because I know you're leaving a well-paying job. Will you take it?" [She took it.]

Source: Off the Sidelines, by Kirsten Gillibrand, p. 34-5 Sep 9, 2014

On Principles & Values: Won in Republican district; Democrats outnumbered 2-1

[In 2004 I consulted] a pollster named Jeffery Pollock. "I'm thinking about running for Congress in the 20th Congressional District," I said.

He walked over to his bookshelf, pulled off a thick paperback, and started reading aloud statistics about voter registration, Democratic performance, and past electoral results. I didn't know what the numbers meant. He translated: In the 20th District, a Democrat could expect roughly 45% of the vote.

Jeffery said, "You can't possibly win. There aren't enough Democrats in that district. The district is two-to-one Republican," meaning it had twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats.

"What happens if I raise $2 million & really get my message out?"

Jeffery didn't budge. "It doesn't matter. That's not how campaigns actually work."

"What happens if Sweeney gets indicted?" I asked.

Jeffery didn't miss a beat. "Well, it depends what he gets indicted for!" [Sweeney was indicted in DWI & domestic abuse charges; Gillibrand won in 2006]

Source: Off the Sidelines, by Kirsten Gillibrand, p. 39-40 Sep 9, 2014

On Homeland Security: Address backlog of veterans' claims & chronic underfunding

Once, a veteran who lost a limb in Vietnam told me, "When I strap on my leg, I strap on my patriotism. Why isn't the VA supporting me?" Those two sentences moved my office to work until we got him $60,000 in benefits and back pay. This story also opened my eyes to the backlog of veteran's claims caused by the chronic underfunding of the Veterans Administration.
Source: Off the Sidelines, by Kirsten Gillibrand, p. 60 Sep 9, 2014

On Families & Children: For most working moms, work is necessity, not choice

We've fallen into a never-ending debate about whether women can "have it all." It's an absurd frame for many reasons. The first: For all mothers, earning money is a necessity, not a choice.

Second: The word "have" sounds like women are being greedy, trying to finagle more than their fair share. Work and family are both basic tenets of our society. Last: I hate the phrase "having it all," because it demeans women who DO stay home with their children, by implying that their lives are less than full. One of the main goals of the feminist movement is that all women should be able to make the best choices for themselves and their families.

So please, let's stop talking about "having it all" and start talking about the very real challenges of "doing it all." The old debate pits women against one another and distracts the conversation from what truly matters--figuring out how working mothers can get the support they need to achieve economic security and build better, happier, more-balanced lives.

Source: Off the Sidelines, by Kirsten Gillibrand, p. 74-5 Sep 9, 2014

On Jobs: 2013: raise minimum wage to $10.10/hour

In May 2013, minimum-wage workers don't have lobbyists or powerful advocacy networks, nor do many of them have time to come to Washington and lobby for themselves, because they can't afford to take the time off.

Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would put more money in the hands of people who need it. Twenty-eight million Americans, including fifteen million women, would start spending more on food, clothes, and other basics. Economists estimate that $22 billion more would flow into the economy, and this would lead to more jobs. But these issues barely gain traction in Congress, because too few of our representatives can relate. They don't earn the minimum wage. Most don't worry about childcare or family-sick-leave-policy. The majority are male, well paid, and not the primary caregiver in their homes.

Source: Off the Sidelines, by Kirsten Gillibrand, p. 79-80 Sep 9, 2014

On Principles & Values: It's a lie that ambition is counter to feminism

    I've learned a few things about ambition over the years, particularly in the months around my Senate appointment.
  1. Do not fall for the lie that ambition is counter to femininity. What creature is stronger and more motivated than a mother protecting her children? Use that feminine strength. It's a huge asset.
  2. Trust yourself. If you don't, nobody will believe in you. Confidence is infectious and builds momentum. Share your faith in yourself. You'll be surprised how quickly others will come to have faith in you, too.
  3. Draw your own map. Yes, take advice and learn from others, but also embrace the fact that no two people have the exact same background, experience, talents, or goals. Create your own plan and stick to it. Uniqueness is a sign that you know yourself and your situation.
Source: Off the Sidelines, by Kirsten Gillibrand, p. 91-2 Sep 9, 2014

On Gun Control: Owns guns, which she keeps unloaded under the bed

One day I ate lunch in the Senate dining room with a reporter from a Long Island newspaper. He says nonchalantly, "You own guns, right?"

I said, "Yes."

"Where do you keep them?" he asked.

Without pausing to think why he was asking the question or whether I should answer it, I said, "Under the bed."

Huge mistake. Our exchange about guns became his whole story. It made the front page of Newsday, and that lead to headlines across the state. I was so frustrated with myself for not answering more thoughtfully--and for answering at all. The topic was irrelevant to our interview. Besides, what was I thinking, telling the world, without any context, that I kept guns under my bed? One had been a raffle prize, the other a gift. Both were still locked up in their original cases. Neither Jonathan nor I had ever loaded either.

Source: Off the Sidelines, by Kirsten Gillibrand, p.106-7 Sep 9, 2014

On Homeland Security: Dont-Ask-Dont-Tell caused 13,000 qualified soldiers to leave

Arguments against the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy could be found everywhere. In addition to being morally outrageous and corrosive, Don't Ask, Don't Tell undermined military readiness. Since 1994, when the law was first implemented, approximately 13,000 well-trained military personnel had been discharged from the U.S. military for being gay. More than 2,000 of those people were experts in mission-critical disciplines. The military lost close to 10 percent of it's foreign-language speakers. The cost of implementing the policy, from 1994 to 2003--including recruitment, retraining, and separation travel--was somewhere between $190 million to $360 million. I didn't understand how a reasonable person could think that such money would not have been better spent on equipment, mental or physical health services... almost anything.
Source: Off the Sidelines, by Kirsten Gillibrand, p.111 Sep 9, 2014

On Homeland Security: Military sexual assault victims need champion with megaphone

I battled against the Department of Defense on how the military handles sexual assault within its ranks. I had not planned to take on this issue. To be honest, for my first four years as a public servant, I had no idea how bad it was. But then I started hearing stories of men & women who'd suffered the worst things imaginable while serving our country. Compounding the problem, commanders failed to prosecute the perpetrators of terrible crimes. These men & women needed a voice. They needed a champion with a megaphone, and I happened to have one. Fighting for them has become one of the most important things I've done in my career. The issue arose in the context of women not wanting to have to disclose a rape in order to have access to healthcare and abortion services while serving abroad as well as the fact that there were convicted rapists still serving in the military. Senator Jeanne Shaheen and I worked on and passed amendments to fix both, but we had only scratched the surface of the problem.
Source: Off the Sidelines, by Kirsten Gillibrand, p.163-4 Sep 9, 2014

The above quotations are from Off the Sidelines
Raise Your Voice, Change the World

by Kirsten Gillibrand
Click here for other excerpts from Off the Sidelines
Raise Your Voice, Change the World

by Kirsten Gillibrand
Click here for other excerpts by Kirsten Gillibrand.
Click here for a profile of Kirsten Gillibrand.
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Page last updated: Aug 11, 2019