Kirsten Gillibrand, the 52-year-old New York senator whose involvement in the movement against sexual harassment have given advocates political heft and critics an invaluable target, announced Sunday morning she was officially a candidate for president, ending her exploratory phase hoping to attract newly-politicized Americans to an aspirational message fashioned in fierce opposition to President Donald Trump.
For Gillibrand, whose campaign said that she will deliver her first speech at New York’s Trump International Hotel, Sunday’s announcement is mostly a formality. But it comes in a process that has been rife with symbolism. In Gillibrand’s announcement of an exploratory committee in January in her hometown of Troy, New York, the senator packaged herself as a political dynamo, a “young mom” and everywoman. She said that setting was a microcosm of the country’s virtues and challenges and followed up with trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, California, and Texas. But her decision to deliver her first speech as a candidate against the backdrop of Trump’s monument signals both a stark early election season contrast to Trump himself and to a field of candidates that has, at times, avoided taking on Trump directly in favor messaging that goes past him.
“We need to remember what it feels like to be brave,” Gillibrand said in a two-and-a-half minute video announcing her candidacy released Sunday that has nearly a dozen direct or indirect references to Trump. “We launched ourselves into space and landed on the moon. If we can do that, we can definitely achieve universal health care, we can provide paid family leave for all, end gun violence, pass a Green New Deal, get money out of politics, and take back our democracy.”
But as her star in the Democratic Party grew increasingly synonymous with #MeToo, Gillibrand has became something of a controversial figure within it, too. She came under fire after moneyed Democrats took to the national press to express their displeasure that she led the call in the US Senate for then-Minnesota Sen. Al Franken to step down.
Recently, Politico reported that a woman in Gillibrand’s office reported that a male staffer made unwanted, sexually aggressive advances toward her, but he was not removed from the office until recently, according to the report. The woman informed Gillibrand’s chief of staff that she was resigning from her office because of how it had handled the situation. In response to the report, Gillibrand’s office said it had initiated “a full and thorough investigation” with “multiple interviews” with relevant employees who could potentially corroborate the claims.
Gillibrand has also so far not gotten any endorsements from her home-state congressional delegation. Beto O’Rourke, who joined the Democratic primary race this week, has already netted two from New York.
Gillibrand was first appointed to the US Senate in 2009 after Hillary Clinton left for the Obama administration, and later won a special election for the seat in 2010, in which she trounced Republican Joe DioGuardi. She won reelection to her seat last year.