The two women pictured above represent a great political story for our time. The woman on the left is Kirsten E. Gillibrand, who was appointed to fill Hillary Clinton's New York Senate by then-governor David A. Paterson. And thanks to her deep-seated belief that more women need to participate in government (7: Magnificent Obsession), the woman on the right (Terri Sewell) ran for a House seat in Alabama, won the election, and became the first black woman ever elected to Congress from that state.
Gillibrand learned about politics from her grandmother, Polly Noonan, who was a high-level worker for the Albany Democratic Women's Club. Ms. Gillibrand (who was known as Tina Rutnik in her youth), would stuff envelopes, answer phones, hand out bumper stickers and fliers, and knock on voters' doors (2: An Early Sense of Direction). In her words, "What I admired so much about [my grandmother] was her passion. I thought 'Someday I may serve, someday I may be a part of this.'"
Many seasoned political pros were surprised that Gillibrand was re-elected to her Senate seat because conventional wisdom has always held that "women candidates - aside from the already famous - have trouble raising money" (13: More Than Meets the Eye). But Gillibrand, particularly with the help of EMILY's List, has easily raised millions for her campaigns.
Gillibrand's background is impressive. She attended the Emma Willard School as well as Dartmouth College, where she majored in Asian studies (she was a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority). During her college summers she worked as an intern for former Senator Alfonse D'Amato, and she later interned at the United Nations Crime Prevention Branch in Vienna. Gillibrand spent a semester in China in 1986 (first in Beijing, and then in Taichung, Taiwan, and learned to read and write Chinese (she memorized over 2,000 characters) before she left for her semester abroad (10: The Critic Within). That unique language skill has proved popular with many of New York's Asian voters.
Gillibrand graduated from UCLA Law School in 1991, and during the Clinton Administration she served as special council to former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Andrew Cuomo.
She is married to Jonathan Gillibrand, a British national who works in finance. They have two young sons, Theodore and Henry, and Senator Gillibrand received a standing ovation on the floor of the House when - just as she had done for her first pregnancy - she worked until the day before she gave birth.
Gillibrand has begun a campaign called Off the Sidelines (www.offthesidelines.org) in an effort to get more women into politics. After the 2010 elections the number of women in Congress declined for the first time in 30 years, and she feels that more women in Congress would help make the government much more productive. "When women's voices are heard, the outcomes are better. That's what my Grandmother taught me."
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