NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Gov. David Paterson appointed Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand on Friday to fill the Senate seat vacated by newly confirmed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Gillibrand, 42, is a second-term Democratic congresswoman whose largely rural district stretches along the state’s eastern border with Massachusetts and Vermont. She and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo had been seen as the top candidates for the post after Caroline Kennedy withdrew from consideration on Thursday.
Clinton, a former first lady, left her Senate seat to become U.S. Secretary of State under President Barack Obama, putting the decision on filling the vacancy in the hands of New York’s Democratic governor.
Introducing Gillibrand at a news conference in Albany, Paterson said: “I believe I have found the best candidate to become the next U.S. Senator from New York.”
“She is dynamic. She is articulate. She is perceptive. She is courageous. She is outspoken,” Paterson said.
Gillibrand, who faces a special election in 2010, acknowledged in her acceptance speech that she was a relative unknown in New York politics.
“I realize that for many New Yorkers, this is the first time you have heard my name and you don’t know much about me,” she said, promising that she “will represent the many diverse views and voices of the entire state as your senator.”
Gillibrand also thanked Clinton and said she hoped to follow in her footsteps.
“I cannot tell you how many times she has inspired me to action,” she said, calling Clinton “a clarion call to so many like me who now hope to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Gillibrand is considered a centrist Democrat who could win over some Republicans, but her opposition to gun control measures drew prompt criticism from the state’s more liberal officials. She ran for her House seat with the backing of the National Rifle Association, which opposes most gun controls.
Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a staunch gun control advocate from Long Island, told local media she would consider challenging Gillibrand in 2010.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he strongly disagreed with Gillibrand on illegal guns.
“She has actively opposed the efforts of New York City, and cities around the state and nation, to enact common-sense measures that keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals,” Bloomberg said in a statement.
Gillibrand said she hoped to find ways to “reduce gun violence and protect our children and keep guns out of the hands of criminals but also protect our hunters’ rights.”
She vowed to make the economy a priority, citing woes of upstate, or northern, New York, and downstate New York City.
“In upstate, years of manufacturing decline have made the new downturn even harder to bear for our families. Downstate, the sudden collapse of the financial industry last fall has echoed throughout our state’s economy.”
Political experts had predicted Paterson would select a woman as well as someone who would help him win conservative, upstate votes in his reelection bid in 2010.
Kennedy, 51, daughter of slain President John F. Kennedy, dropped out of consideration, citing personal reasons.
Her decision to withdraw came after her uncle, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, suffered a seizure on Tuesday in Washington. The 76-year-old senator, who is fighting brain cancer, was released from the hospital on Wednesday.
While initial speculation centered on Kennedy pulling out over concern about her uncle’s health, ensuing reports pointed to other issues.
Some local media reported that an aide to Paterson said problems with taxes and a household employee had emerged during Kennedy’s vetting.
The governor’s office issued a statement saying nothing unearthed during the selection process had made it necessary for anyone to withdraw.
Kennedy’s political debut was rocky. She seemed uncomfortable talking to the media and was criticized for giving vague and inarticulate answers to interview questions.
A poll taken earlier this month showed that while a quarter of respondents favored Kennedy, 31 percent preferred Cuomo.
Cuomo, also 51, is the son of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and was secretary of housing and urban development under former President Bill Clinton.
Editing by Eric Walsh