Thursday, January 8, 2009

Not a Horrible Senator for Transit

After recommending Jerry Nadler as the transit candidate to be New York's next Senator, I was encouraged by Niccolo Machiavelli (himself!) to examine some of the other candidates.

Many upstaters are disgruntled at the prospect of having two senators from the New York metropolitan area. (Maybe they're also upset at the idea of being represented by two Jews, but they don't come out and say that.) It's a funny thing, though: we really haven't had too many senators who weren't from downstate. There were John Foster Dulles and Charles Goodell, but they were both appointed to fill vacancies and then lost the next election (hmm). Kenneth Keating (1959-1965) is the most recent senator to be elected from upstate; he served one term and then lost to Bobby Kennedy.

Still and all, maybe upstaters deserve a senator every now and then. I was worried that we might get some awful highway-builder like David Gantt appointed, but it turns out that there's at least one promising name: Representative Kirsten Gillibrand (D-Hudson).

Your Cap'n disagrees with Gillibrand on a lot of issues, like tax cuts for the wealthy and the farm bill. But this is a blog about transit, so how is she on these issues?

Unfortunately, I don't have time right now to look into her record in detail. At a glance, I see that she voted for a bill to give grants for public transit, but she also voted for a Rangel-sponsored bill to pump money into the highway trust fund, and for the automaker bailout. Generally she seems to vote with the House majority, which is not surprising for a freshman in Congress.

In terms of statements she's made, she supports light rail for the Capital District. The Times Union reported in August:

“The investment I’m really interested in is a commuting light rail system between Albany and Saratoga,” said U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-Greenport.

Gillibrand’s ideal system would grow branches to the airport, Schenectady, Troy and other communities. She estimates such a project could cost around $1 billion and would require sustained investment over at least a decade.

Gillibrand even has a champion in mind: Gov. David Paterson.

“Because it’s a significant investment, it would have to be an investment from the state and it would have to be a vision of the governor,” she said.

Or she could even reach across the aisle to Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, whose district covers most of the proposed trunk route. It'd be nice if she developed that idea as much as she did her gas price pandering.

In terms of transit, Gillibrand practices what she preaches. The Main St. USA blog reposts a Times Union piece from last year that describes her riding the D.C. Metro every day from her Arlington apartment to the Capital, dropping her son Theo (then three years old) off on the way at the congressional daycare center.

Gillibrand's record is pretty scanty - again, what you'd expect for someone who's only served one term in Congress. It certainly doesn't compare to Nadler's strong record of support for transit and rail freight. But if Governor Paterson did wind up appointing Gillibrand, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for transit. Hey, maybe we'd wind up with a light rail system in the Capital District.

Photo: Theo and Kirsten Gillibrand by Andrew C. White/Flickr.

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