En Español Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Strategic Policy Advocacy
Type: Media Coverage

Gillibrand Prefers Soliloquy to Sound Bite

When
Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand visited Nazareth
Regional High
School in Brooklyn recently
to talk with students, the school’s principal, Barbara Gil, received unusual instructions
from the senator’s staff.

"They
said, ‘She’s great, but she’s a talker, so we’re going to give you a sign if
she’s getting out of control,’ " Ms. Gil recalled.

Sure
enough, Ms. Gil said, during the meeting Ms. Gillibrand’s aides quietly passed
a handwritten note to the principal asking her to interrupt their boss and move
on to the next question. Twice.

"I was
getting messages to cut her off, because she tended to be way behind schedule
if we didn’t keep her on track," Ms. Gil explained, noting that the senator was
particularly expansive when describing her newfound zest for gun control and a
moratorium on immigration raids.

In an age
in which politicians live and die by the sound bite, Ms. Gillibrand’s
five-minute-plus answers — or "soliloquies," as a former staff member
affectionately put it — are emerging as a trademark. A month after she was
chosen to fill Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate seat, Ms. Gillibrand is getting
generally good reviews: constituents who are meeting her for the first time
describe her as warm, articulate and a good listener. But she explains her
positions in exhausting, sometimes excruciating, detail. And then she explains
some more.

"She’s I
guess what they call a wonk," said Pat Friesen, another former aide who demonstrated
the emphatic tug on the elbow and nervous smile that staff members employed to
pull Ms. Gillibrand, then a congresswoman, out of particularly long
conversations with constituents. "Usually, she was late because she got to
talking, and we said, ‘We kind of need to go.’ "

In
answering questions about her vote against the first bank bailout bill (5
minutes 3 seconds), or her stance on illegal immigration (3 minutes 51 seconds,
including the sentence, "This is very technical, but I’ll tell it to you anyway"),
Ms. Gillibrand steadfastly ignores public figures fidgeting behind her and
schedulers looking at the clock.

New
Yorkers got a taste of her relentlessness when Gov. David A. Paterson announced
that he had chosen her for the Senate seat. At one point during Ms.
Gillibrand’s speech (which ran a healthy 25 minutes 12 seconds), Mr. Paterson
interrupted to whisper that President Obama was about to call to congratulate
her.

"Should I
finish?" Ms. Gillibrand asked, to which the governor responded with a dubious
shrug. She turned back to the podium. "I’m going to finish."

The
exchange at the press conference was "vintage Kirsten," explained Elaine
Bartley, one of the senator’s lifelong friends. She recalled that when Ms.
Gillibrand returned from studying abroad in China
and Taiwan
in college, she invited about 50 friends and relatives to her mother’s house to
hear a narrative of her experiences that lasted several hours, complete with a
slide show.

"Probably
oftentimes she gives more information than people would generally like to
hear," Ms. Bartley said. "I find it charming. She has incredible enthusiasm."

During a
meeting this month with members of the Hispanic Federation, who were eager to
talk to her about her position on immigration, she opened with a lengthy story
about moving from New York to Washington to work for Andrew M. Cuomo, then
secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, while navigating
her romance with the man who would become her husband.

"She
stayed on that point for a little while, which was funny, because you don’t
expect to hear a senator spend a lot of time talking about her boyfriend," said
Ana Maria Archila, an executive
director of a workers’ advocacy group,
Make the Road New
York
, who
attended the event. "It’s kind of a charming story, but I was thinking, ‘Hmm,
O.K., I hope we get to talk about the things we came to talk about.’ "

The good
news for Ms. Gillibrand is that a talkative streak seldom precludes success in New York politics.
Charles E. Schumer, the senior senator, is a notorious microphone hog, and Mrs.
Clinton, who is now secretary of state, has struggled at times with
long-windedness. Mrs. Clinton’s husband, of course, takes the cake: Bill
Clinton’s widely ridiculed 32-minute speech at the Democratic National
Convention in 1988, when he was Arkansas
governor, received its loudest applause when he said the words "in conclusion."
Four years later, he was elected president.

T. J.
Walker, a media trainer whose seminar Ms. Gillibrand attended four years ago,
said the key to overcoming a tendency to ramble is to focus on conveying no
more than three messages per interview, prepare sound bites for each message
and practice them in front a camera.

He added,
however, that he believes Ms. Gillibrand knows how to stay on message and has
already mastered the one-liner. When she attended his seminar as a
Congressional candidate facing an uphill fight in 2006, Mr. Walker was struck
by her earnest attitude toward learning the ropes, particularly given her
background as a lawyer.

"Many
corporate lawyers who enter public life think of speaking to the media and
giving stump speeches as a necessary evil, a form of political dental
flossing," Mr. Walker said. "My impression of Kirsten, when I met her, was that
she actually enjoyed it. She relished it."

Faced
again with an unfamiliar audience, Ms. Gillibrand may already be starting to
embrace the more disciplined approach typical of a statewide communication
strategy. She declined to comment for this article, and her spokesman, Matt
Canter, defended her speaking style with a sound bite of his own.

"These
are serious times that don’t lend themselves to 10-second sound bites," he
said. "Senator Gillibrand gives honest, detailed answers, because that’s what
her new constituents deserve. She’s offering New Yorkers substance, not sound
bites."