April 8, 2009

Gillibrand Visits Cornell To Establish Term’s Focus

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Before trying to enact some of her major policy agendas in the Senate chamber in Washington, D.C., Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior senator from New York, has to listen to her constituents in order to determine what exactly her agenda should be. After holding economic development roundtables in Cortland and Elmira yesterday, Gillibrand also participated in a roundtable discussion at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“I’m here to help,” Gillibrand told the panelists and audience members. Focusing on what Gillibrand could do for the people and the region she represents in Congress, the roundtable gravitated towards how Gillibrand could help alleviate the economic and agricultural issues facing upstate New York.
The panel was composed of 15 individuals from the Cornell and surrounding communities, including Carolyn Peterson, mayor of the City of Ithaca, Rob MacKenzie, CEO of Cayuga Medical Center, Tom Rochon, president of Ithaca College, Susan Henry, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Michael Kotlikoff, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, among others.
According to Kotlikoff, the purpose of the roundtable was to facilitate communication with Gillibrand and to hear the concerns and comments of the community.
Gillibrand, who replaced Hillary Rodham Clinton as New York’s junior senator in late January when Clinton was appointed to the position of Secretary of State by President Barack Obama, stressed the importance of agro-business, education, the sciences, proper funding and restoring jobs. She also focused on a safe, American-grown food supply and teaching children to eat well.
As Gillibrand dutifully took notes, the panelists asked her about a variety of issues, including how she might attempt to get the word out to farmers about grants, promote agro-business in small cities, encourage students to enter the sciences, deal with the shortage of primary physicians and combat global climate change.
Among her responses, Gillibrand suggested plans to increase tourism to upstate New York, especially through promoting the wineries, and to institute loan repayment programs to help more students minimize their debt upon graduating from college. She also discussed her work on a bill that aims to increase the number of students majoring in math, science and technology by making their junior and senior years tuition free at New York State schools.
Derek Calhoon, a third year veterinary student, came to the roundtable with an interest in policymaking and the influence that national politics has on veterinary medicine at the local level.
“It’s heartening to have someone who is at least willing to listen on the [House] Agricultural Committee. I’m still cautiously optimistic about anything she said,” Calhoon said.
Margaret Cole, an Ithaca community member, was impressed by Gillibrand’s approachable and responsive nature. Cole cited one instance where an audience member invited Gillibrand to an event and Gillibrand offered to electronically send talking points if she unable to personally attend. However, Cole would have liked to see more student involvement.
“Her follow-through and eagerness to communicat[e] with students is really [an] important thing,” Cole said.
Gillibrand graduated from Dartmouth College in 1988 and received her law degree from the UCLA School of Law in 1991. Prior to replacing Clinton as senator, Gillibrand served as special counsel to the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo and as a lawyer in New York City. Gillibrand then served in the U.S. House of Representatives representing ten counties in Upstate New York. She has served on the Armed Services Committee and the House Agriculture Committee as well, where she has been an advocate for New York’s farmers. She also serves on the Environment & Public Works Committee, Foreign Relations Committee, Agriculture Committee and Special Committee on Aging.
Currently, Gillibrand lives in Greenport, New York with her husband and sons.