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Maloney Focuses on Women’s Agenda

As one of a handful of House Democrats mulling a 2010 primary run against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Rep. Carolyn Maloney may be trying to “out-woman— the recently appointed Senator as a way to win the coveted Senate seat.

Maloney, a nine-term House veteran, became a chairwoman for the first time in her Congressional career when she took the gavel of the Joint Economic Committee in January. And she’ll be the first to tell you that she’s the first female JEC chairman in history.

As they ponder whether to challenge Gillibrand next year, each of the House Members on the list of potential candidates — in addition to Maloney, it includes Reps. Steve Israel, Carolyn McCarthy, Jerrold Nadler and José Serrano — is trying to maximize their Congressional work into political opportunity.

For Maloney, “JEC is a new platform,— according to one committee aide. “She’s never had this much attention. She wants [women’s issues] to be a key issue for the next two years.—

The aide added, “On the other side of it, she is constantly listed as a possible challenger to Gillibrand.—

On Tuesday, Maloney is holding the first hearing of the year on the gender pay gap. She timed the hearing to coincide with Equal Pay Day, an annual reminder of the wage disparity, and the release of a new Government Accountability Office report detailing an 11-cent gender pay gap among federal employees.

“Women lose an estimated $400,000 to $2 million in a lifetime— because of pay disparities, Maloney said in an interview. “The strongest predictor of poverty in old age is being a mother. How do you like that for work-family balance?—

During the interview, Maloney called attention to her book about the need for more progress on women’s rights. Her staff also provided a document outlining scores of Maloney’s legislative accomplishments related to women’s issues.

The New York Democrat isn’t hiding the fact that she may use the committee to tout women’s issues. The news release announcing today’s hearing states: “This hearing continues Chair Maloney’s commitment to highlighting economic and work-life balance issues facing women.—

Maloney hasn’t formally announced a run against Gillibrand. But of the House Members whose names have been floated as possible challengers, Maloney is considered second only to Israel for most likely to run. Both recently hired heavy hitters as statewide finance directors.

As of March 31, Gillibrand had $2.2 million in her campaign account. Israel had $1.7 million, and Maloney had $1.3 million.

“Many people have contributed and urged me to run and written to me. I’m considering it,— Maloney said.

But using women’s issues as a way to differentiate her record from Gillibrand’s may prove difficult for Maloney. When New York Gov. David Paterson (D) appointed Gillibrand to the Senate in late January, several key Democratic interest groups in the state expressed their disappointment. But women were not among them — and women’s groups have been a key element of Gillibrand’s winning coalition since she won an upstate New York House seat in an upset in 2006.

On Wednesday, the founder of EMILY’s List, the group that helps to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, is hosting a fundraiser for Gillibrand at Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) Capitol Hill home. All female Democratic Senators are expected to attend.

“Oh, really? Well, that’s nice,— said Maloney, who said she didn’t know about the fundraiser until it was mentioned in the interview.

Gillibrand spokesman Matt Canter said anyone who would question Gillibrand’s commitment to women’s issues is “truly grasping at straws.—

“During her time in Congress and in the Senate, Sen. Gillibrand has been a leading voice for women, and, in her brief time into the U.S. Senate, helped pass the Lilly Ledbetter Act,— Canter said, referring to legislation making it easier for women to sue for pay discrimination.

Canter noted that Gillibrand has a 100 percent record with women’s groups including the National Organization for Women, the National Abortion Rights Action League and Planned Parenthood, in addition to the coveted support of EMILY’s List.

Shortly after Gillibrand was appointed to the Senate, EMILY’s List President Ellen Malcolm endorsed Gillibrand for 2010 and praised her as “a great advocate for women and families.—

Paterson’s choice of Gillibrand to replace now-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Senate sparked tensions within the New York Democratic delegation over what some perceived as her more conservative views on guns and immigration. Some also felt that House lawmakers with a longer tenure should have been picked for the seat.

“I don’t know anybody really in the delegation who’s not frustrated,— said one aide to a House Democrat from New York. Some Members have “put in a lot of effort to get on the radar and felt there was somebody that so much did not represent what New York should be represented by in the Senate.—

In addition to the House Members, potential Democratic primary challengers to Gillibrand include Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who recently opened up an exploratory committee, and Suffolk County Legislator Jon Cooper. Stringer, a former top aide to Nadler when Nadler served in the state Assembly, is also close to Maloney, so he is unlikely to make the Senate race if either of them runs.

Maloney said she thought any of the House Members eyeing Gillibrand’s seat in 2010 would be a good choice.

“I think they would be fine Senators,— she said. “We’re all friends.—

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