Who Will Follow in Hillary’s Feminist Footsteps?


The unofficial "race" to replace Hillary Clinton in the New
York Senate has become something of a media feeding frenzy ever since
political scion Caroline Kennedy threw her hat into the so-called ring.
While the voters aren’t actually deciding–that’s up to Governor David
Paterson–opinionmakers are weighing in at a furious pace in anticipation
of next week’s expected announcement.


The three leading candidates–Kennedy,
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and longtime Representative Carolyn Maloney–have
all said they are unequivocally in favor of a full range range of reproductive
rights for women. The voters of New York are a pro-choice bunch, so
there’s little risk of losing a vote in the Senate.


While acknowledging Cuomo and Kennedy’s name recognition and stated
commitment to key issues, many feminists and leading reproductive rights
groups nonetheless have an extra reserve of goodwill towards Maloney
precisely because of the shoes she’ll be filling.  Hillary Clinton
was not just a supporter of reproductive rights but a constant and a
fierce advocate, her staunch and spirited opposition to the Bush administrations
abhorrent HHS "conscience clause" regulations being a pertinent
example.


Maloney a Favorite Among Feminists

Many in the reproductive justice community hope that Maloney, who has
pioneered groundbreaking pro-women work in Congress and chaired
the Women’s Caucus, will step up and assume the same kind of leadership
role in the senate that Clinton had.


One of Maloney’s best-known contributions was the Debbie Smith Act,
which sped up the processing of rape-kit DNA testing, enabling the government
to effectively prosecute rapists. She has also been a staunch supporter
of US funding for the UN Population Fun (UNPFA), a champion for equal
wages and has raised her
voice
against sexual assault in the military
.
Maloney has kept tabs on Congress votes pertaining to reproductive choice
to keep the electorate informed with a "
choice scorecard." Her recently-published book, "Rumors
of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated: Why Women’s Lives Aren’t
Getting Any Easier
" details triumphs and goals yet unmet in
the quest for women’s equality: clearly, this is the fight of her life.


That’s why so many feminist organizations and prominent women’s advocates
in New York including NOW, and the Feminist Majority have thrown their
weight behind Maloney.  There’s also a sense that she’s been tested in
the field, particularly as opposed to Kennedy, who has no political experience
beyond fundraising for public schools and campaigning for Obama.


Pros and Cons on Kennedy

Katha Pollitt wrote
a satirical column
asking
Paterson to appoint her as a way of pushing back against Kennedy’s
"campaign":

    You think I’m joking, but every
    argument that has been advanced for Kennedy is just as true for me.
    She’s a mother, a writer, a person with no electoral experience or,
    so far as we know, longstanding interest in acquiring any–me too! She
    has more kids; I’ve written more books–I’d say it averages out.
     

Pollitt and Gloria Steinem, among others,
have floated the idea that if Kennedy wants to dip her foot into the
pool of public life, she ought to encourage Paterson to appoint Maloney,
then run for Maloney’s vacated seat–which happens to be in Kennedy’s Upper
East Side district.


Others have been more open to Kennedy,
who has avowed her support
for choice and Roe
, as
a possibility. Several prominent writers, including Lisa Belkin, have
said that the attacks on Kennedy’s lack of political experience are
gendered because Kennedy prioritized her family over her career.  But
on a policy level others have pointed out Kennedy’s unique qualifications.
Dana Goldstein wrote in
TAPPED
back in December
that Kennedy’s powerful network and compelling name will be an advantage
in:

    Kennedy, on the other hand, though
    completely new to legislation, will be surrounded by the highest-caliber
    staff members and enjoy a direct line to the president, to whom she
    awarded a crucial mid-primary endorsement.

 
These considerations are important: Clinton’s replacement will have
a relatively hampered position as the most junior senator, so the hope
that Kennedy’s clout might enable her to rise above the constrictions
of her role and effect positive change are not unfounded.


Cuomo: Staunch Supporter

As for Cuomo, when he ran for AG in 2006, he received 100% ratings from pro-choice
groups
and posited himself
as an unflinching supporter of reproductive rights in the tradition
of his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer. A thorough search through his press
archives show no initiatives or drives directly related to reproductive
rights, abortion or contraception specifically in the past two years.
He has, however, been a zealous advocate of
health insurance reform, and even stepped in to aid a breast cancer patient
who couldn’t secure insurance
.
This experience could be helpful in the upcoming battle for universal
health care.


Cuomo, who benefits from his family name just as Kennedy does (dad was Governor Mario) has also raised concerns because his appointment would
lower the number of women senators. Nonetheless,
he recently overtook his
rival in public opinion polls
.
A survey taken earlier this week found Cuomo with 31% support, Kennedy
with 24% and Maloney with 6. But Paterson has said that such polls
won’t sway his decision.


Ultimately, New York will get a committed pro-choice, pro-reproductive
rights senator. All three candidates have strong advantages, but  Maloney
has the most proven track record on choice, and has demonstrated a thorough
understanding of many issues under the reproductive justice umbrella.
It would be a heartening tribute to Senator Clinton’s legacy and a gift
to the women of New York to see this kind of work continue in her absence.

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