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July 13, 2011

Why Kirsten Gillibrand Wants You to Run for Office

The number of women in Congress has declined for the first time in decades. The junior senator from New York wants to change that.


New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

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On the home front, you're married, with two kids. And of course there's your all-encompassing job. Who told you that you could do it all?

My mother was a very important inspiration in my life. In her law-school class, there were only three women. She's a very determined woman who's very independent and did a lot of things that her peers never did, and it gave me enormous courage and really the confidence that I can do anything I want to do, that I don't have to do things the way everybody else does. You know, a funny story: Six of my best girlfriends had mothers who were stay-at-home mothers, and so, 5 out of 6 of my friends became lawyers, because the only working woman we knew was my mother. It's really funny.

Your mother also helped inspire your work to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," correct?
Very much so. When I was growing up, my mother's gay friends had families just like our family. And so it never occurred to me that we should discriminate against gay men and women for who they are, for who they love. When I realized that there wasn't a great deal of movement in repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" when I first joined the Senate, it became an issue that I thought I could make a difference on. I thought, I can push this; I can work with my colleagues; I can create a coalition of support to repeal it. I asked Chairman Levin to hold the first hearing — the first hearing in 16 years. Through that hearing, we got the testimony of Admiral Mullen, when he said that he believed it undermined the whole integrity of the armed services. That was a very valuable testimony for getting a few undecided democratic votes.

When you began that battle, did people tell you to forget it?

Yes. Even some of the advocacy groups thought it was a waste of time or that it wouldn't be successful. They said, "We don't believe a legislative solution is the right approach. We think we should ask the White House to take the lead on this." And I said, "Yes, we should definitely ask the White House to take the lead on this, but fundamentally this is a law on the books, and if it's there, it will be used against gay men and women at some point in the future. We don't know who the next administration is; we don't know what the future will bring; we have to repeal the law."

So, my view was: You might be right — it might be difficult or impossible, but we have to fight for it. This can't be part of our laws: We cannot institutionalize discrimination. Because it's bad for our national security. And it's unfair and unjust and fundamentally discriminatory against gay Americans. And it's a corrosive policy. Because if you look at, the military is based on integrity and loyalty and courage and honestly and character, except if you're gay, then you had to lie about everything. It was incongruous to the whole core of military values.

On a personal note, you've lost 40 pounds in the last year or so. What's your secret?
After I had my second child, Henry, I nursed him for about a year. And after I was done nursing, I decided I want to take my health and fitness seriously and get back to my regular self. And a friend of mine mentioned, "You know, Kirsten, you love sports. Why aren't you playing sports? It's something you always done." I thought, Gosh, she's right. I haven't made time for myself. I haven't made time for myself since I was married. I had stopped playing sports. I thought, What a great idea. I started playing tennis again; I started playing squash again; I started running. And I took my diet very seriously. I went on a very serious diet. I've been eating fruits and vegetables, lean meats and fish, low-fat dairy, complex carbs only in the morning. I was determined to get back to my regular self. And so over a year, I lost 40 pounds, and I became much fitter and much stronger. And now my squash game is better than it's ever been. And my tennis game is better than it was in college. And so I'm getting stronger, fitter, and trying to take that little bit of time every day.

It's hard for young mothers, to be honest. To take that time for ourselves because we're trying so hard to juggle family life and professional life. And when we have even an ounce of time free, we want to devote it to our children, and so really, I certainly felt selfish if was spending any time in the gym or any time working out because I wasn't with my children. And so for me, it was important to say, a fit mommy is a happy mommy. So it's good for the kids if I have that moment every day to do something that makes me healthier. 

What's your guilty pleasure? 

Going to a dinner and a movie with my husband. That is a delight.


Favorite movie? 

I love all the old movies: Rear Window, Vertigo, To Catch A Thief, All About Eve.


Any new films you like?
I watched a great movie recently called The Way Back. An unbelievable movie about a group from Siberia that broke out of a gulag and walked to India and survived. Through Mongolia across the Himalayas. It was an unbelievable story of drive and dedication and a will to live that inspired me.

How'd you find time to see that?
I saw it on the plane!


What are you reading?
Bossypants by Tina Fey and Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You're Worth by Mika Brzezinski.

Team Angelina or Jen? 

I like them both! For different reasons.


What reasons? 

I think Angelina Jolie plays strong female characters in her films, and seems to be very physically fit. And Jennifer Aniston often plays the girl next door, who I also admire. I like both of them!

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